Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, Feb. 23, 2017. Reuters

During the first half of the year in state legislatures, drug companies have fought bills to reduce medicine prices; the financial industry has tried to stop legislation to end special state tax breaks; and oil and gas firms have pushed to block environmental regulations. Now, newly released documents reviewed by International Business Times show that donors from those industries are pumping big money into the group that elects and defends the Republican governors who could make or break those legislative causes.

In all, new financial filings by the Republican Governors Association show that the group raised more than $36 million in the first half of 2017. The RGA, which is led by new chairman Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, can accept unlimited donations and spend freely to help gubernatorial candidates in state elections, effectively allowing donors to circumvent strict state campaign finance laws.

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Large tranches of the money flowing into the RGA come from donors in key industries with a financial stake in state policy.

For instance, in Illinois, hedge fund executive Ken Griffin gave $500,000 to the group, which will help defend Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in what is expected to be a difficult battle for reelection. Griffin’s donation came less than three weeks after Democrats — led by gubernatorial candidate Sen. Daniel Biss — introduced legislation to slap a 20 percent tax on financial executives like Griffin. The bill would effectively end a special “carried interest” tax benefit that financial execs currently enjoy. Rauner is a former private equity executive whose 2014 campaign received $20 million from Griffin.

Similarly, in Massachusetts, David Abrams of Abrams Capital gave the RGA $250,000 a few months after state lawmakers introduced a similar bill to close the carried interest tax loophole. Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, a former financial executive who is on the executive committee of the RGA, is up for reelection in 2018 and has not taken a public position on the legislation. Abrams previously gave a total of $100,000 to the group in 2015 and 2016, after Baker was appointed to the group's executive committee, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.com

Bruce Rauner
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner speaks to the media after a meeting with former President Barack Obama and other Governor-elects from seven states at the White House in Washington, D.C., Dec. 5, 2014. Reuters

On drug prices, IBT previously reported that nearly 80 pharmaceutical-related bills have been introduced in 30 states in 2017. Many of the bills aim to reduce the price of medicine and bring more transparency to the pricing process.

As those bills have been introduced in the 2017 state legislative session, pharmaceutical industry money flowed into the RGA. In all, pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers gave more than $1 million to the group in the first six months of the year. That includes six-figure donations from AstraZeneca ($200,000) Merck ($100,000), Novo ($100,000), Mallinckrodt Pharma ($100,000) and Vertex Pharma ($100,000).

State lawmakers have been considering legislation to block cities and towns from restricting oil and gas development, and to expand nuclear energy. Fossil fuel and nuclear industry interests gave $800,000 to the RGA, which included $125,000 in donations from both the American Petroleum Institute and ExxonMobil, as well as a $100,000 donations from Marathon Petroleum. The Nuclear Energy Institute also gave $100,000.

State lawmakers also debated measures that could lower the remuneration utilities must pay to owners of rooftop solar equipment, thereby disincentivizing the expansion of an energy source that is an alternative to fossil fuel. Along with fossil fuel companies, groups from the utilities industry that could benefit gave more than $675,000 to the RGA. That includes Nextera Energy Resources ($274,000), Xcel Energy ($100,000), Duke Energy ($100,000) and the Edison Electric Institute ($166,000) — the latter of which has led the state lobbying fight.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story said Abrams had not previously given to the RGA. It has been updated to reflect that he donated a total of $100,000 to the group in 2015 and 2016.