For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-2500, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org

Advocacy Group Asks Governor Cuomo to Disclose Girlfriend’s Oil Industry Connections, Releases Ad Campaign Asking Governor to Ban Fracking

WASHINGTON - A week and a half after New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation recommended opening up 85 percent of the Marcellus Shale in New York to gas fracking, the national consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch today asked New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to disclose his live-in girlfriend’s connections to the oil and gas industry. The group is also launching a five-figure advocacy ad buy targeting the governor that will run in the Buffalo, Albany, Rochester and Syracuse media markets starting this week asking him to protect public health and environmental resources by banning fracking in New York.

In an open letter sent to the Governor’s Office today, Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter cites a recent Wall Street Journal article noting that Governor Cuomo’s girlfriend, Sandra Lee, recently spoke at a “conference of petroleum executives” in March, but her representatives have declined to identify the group. Since they are unmarried, Ms. Lee is not obligated under law to disclose the sources of her income from speaking engagements.

“We believe it’s time the Cuomo administration take steps to ensure transparency in regard to its dealings with this industry, especially since the entire nation is watching to see what New York state will do regarding natural gas fracking,” wrote Hauter.

Also troubling is that the source of the Wall Street Journal article, a blog by Star Talent Inc., was originally posted in late March and apparently removed and re-posted, changing the word “petroleum” to “corporate” executives. “One might wonder: Did the scrutiny brought to bear on Ms. Lee from the Wall Street Journal article prompt her representation to attempt to obscure the dealings with the petroleum industry regarding the event?” wrote Hauter.

Since the identity of the group has not been disclosed, Hauter writes, “We are only left to speculate on that question.” The National Fuel Gas Company convened its annual shareholders meeting at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Fla. on March 10, 2011, the same hotel as Ms. Lee’s appearance there that month. The company sells and transports natural gas through Western New York and Pennsylvania. One day earlier, the company’s subsidiary, Seneca Resources, divested itself of its Gulf of Mexico oil and gas assets in favor of developing properties in the Marcellus Shale.

“One might also wonder why a ‘conference of petroleum executives’ would have interest in a Food Network personality,” wrote Hauter. “The question of whether or not a greater motive is at play will hang over your head until Ms. Lee discloses, openly and transparently, the sources of her income from such speaking appearances.”

Hauter is also testifying today at the public meeting of the Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board, which has been tasked with making recommendations about how to improve the safety of shale gas development. There she will express her concern about the lack of non-industry input from communities and academics alarmed by the public health, environmental and socio-economic effects of shale gas drilling. She will also reiterate that the entire nation is watching New York on the issue, and that it’s critical that Governor Cuomo address transparency problems – including disclosing his girlfriend’s industry ties.

“Your leadership in New York reverberates throughout the nation. As a powerful state, federal agencies and affected communities around the country are watching what unfolds there regarding fracking regulations. You are also a prominent leader with known ambitions beyond the state. That is why we urge you to address these transparency problems, starting with disclosing the sources of Sandra Lee’s petroleum industry income,” wrote Hauter in the open letter.

Food & Water Watch and 48 other groups have asked for a statewide ban on fracking in New York.


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Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

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