POLITICS

Anti-fracking Pennsylvania lawmaker admits to using fake names to attack opponents online

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Environment,Energy Department

Wednesday night, Pittsburgh CBS affiliate KDKA correspondent Andy Sheehan reported that Rep. Jesse White, a Democrat who represents Washington County in the state’s general assembly, had apparently been attacking supporters of natural gas drilling under a variety of online aliases over the last two years. White often attacked in a particularly rude manner, accusing his opponents of things like being “moles”  and “whores” on the payroll the natural gas industry.

The drilling, or fracking as it commonly called, is a controversial issue in the state, which is home to most of the vast stores of natural gas in the Marcellus shale deposit.

The video of the report is here and is completely worth your time. (The embedding code, alas, doesn’t seem to work.) In it, Sheehan notes that the IP addresses for the various Internet commenters attacking people like elderly grandma and fracking fan Janice Gibbs are all registered to White. The same IP address — his official statehouse one — was used to impersonate Gibbs as well. The website for a supposed grassroots group “GasRootsPA.com” that praised White and used the word “whore” to describe fracking fans was also registered to White.

When confronted by Sheehan, White kept up the attack, alleging that any criticism of him was really coming from the natural gas industry. He “no commented” on whether he was behind the apparent Internet sock puppetry.

On Thursday, White conceded that he was behind the Internet attacks, making the following post on his Facebook page, according to the Beaver County (Pa.) Times:

For the past several years, I have asked the tough questions few have been willing to ask to ensure natural gas drilling is done the safest way possible in Pennsylvania. My efforts have drawn the attention of multi-million dollar energy industry groups like Energy In Depth, who have published numerous misleading and personal attacks against me in an attempt to distract people from the real issues and discredit my character. These attacks have included anonymous or fictitious posts on various websites.

On occasion, I have exercised my First Amendment rights and responded in kind, which was an error in judgment that I regret. To be clear, I did not use government resources while posting comments on these sites.

***

I apologize to Janice Gibbs and Donald Roessler for any action I’ve taken that may have been offensive or hurtful, and I will be extending a private invitation to meet with them to discuss our viewpoints face-to-face in an effort to find common ground and foster a more professional and respectful level of communication.

White’s self-serving defense of just being a tad overzealous in his criticism of the natural gas industry takes on a different dimension when you learn that he was actually once very tight with  Range Resources, a Pennsylvania-based natural gas company.  He then had an apparent falling out with the company when, among other things, it did not fly him to the 2011 Super Bowl (the Steelers were playing that year). The relationship turned so sour that the company released a series of emails between its executives and White:

The messages show the lawmaker raising concerns about who would be coordinating his fundraiser that Range was hosting in March 2010, and later criticizing how much that event raised, saying it fell “considerably short of the intended target.”

“I take massive amounts of abuse from my constituents every single day about the Marcellus industry, and I believe I have done an honest and sincere job of supporting your efforts to create jobs and educate people about Marcellus,” Mr. White wrote in June 2010.

Another email appears to show Mr. White asking Range to fly him down to the Super Bowl in 2011, which pitted the Steelers against the Green Bay Packers.

In the message from Mr. White’s legislative email account to Range vice president Ray Walker, government affairs director Carl Carlson, and spokesman Matt Pitzarella, he asks: “If the Range plane was heading down, any chance we could stowaway in the cargo hold?”

White later claimed he was joking about the plane trip and that releasing the emails was an attempt to smear him.

Interestingly, White also opposed a state bill that would have made Internet sock puppetry illegal:

Last year, state Rep. Kathy Watson, R-Bucks, introduced a bill to make “online impersonation” a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of $5,000.

As Melissa Daniels reported at the time, the bill was aimed at “cyber-bullying.” Though that might normally be a problem associated with schools and teenagers, perhaps it extends to members of the General Assembly as well.

The bill progressed from the House Judiciary Committee with a vote of 22-1 and was passed by the full House in October with a vote of 196-1.

On both occasions, White was the lone negative vote.

The bill eventually failed in the state Senate, but was reintroduced by Watson this year.  It passed the state House (with White’s support this time) two weeks ago and is now awaiting action by the state Senate.

 

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