Keystone XL pipeline developer aiding GOP candidates in Nebraska

Republican candidates running in Nebraska have been receiving a financial boost from the developer of the Keystone XL pipeline, as it tries to secure approval for the $8 billion project.

A political action committee for TransCanada Inc., which first proposed the pipeline in July 2008, has donated more than $65,000 to campaigns within the last year, mostly to Republican state lawmakers, according to an Associated Press review of campaign disclosure records.

Filings with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission show TransCanada gave $25,000 to Gov. Pete Ricketts' re-election campaign, $15,000 to the Nebraska Republican Party and $25,500 to state lawmakers.

Nebraska Republican Party Executive Director Kenny Zoeller said TransCanada made the party contributions as a sponsor for state GOP events, including recognition dinners for state senators and local volunteers. The state party has approved resolutions in the past voicing formal support for the Keystone XL, he said.

TransCanada's spending in Nebraska is high compared to many companies that lobby state officials, said Jack Gould, issues chairman of Common Cause Nebraska, a political watchdog group.

However, TransCanada spokesman Matthew John defended the contributions.

"We participate in an open and transparent political process and will continue to support elected officials and public policies that promote the safe and environmentally responsible development of North American energy infrastructure," he said.

The Keystone XL pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska.

The pipeline faces intense resistance from environmental groups, Native American tribes and some landowners along the route. who worry about its long-term impact on their groundwater and property rights.

Pipeline opponents say the company's contributions show it's trying to exert influence over the state's top elected officials at the expense of landowners who don't want the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline running through their property.

"There is no question big political donations have bought some politicians," said Jane Kleeb, president of the Bold Alliance, a group that has worked to recruit and support candidates who openly oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.

Kleeb said activists have kept the project from moving forward for a decade, despite being outspent.

In addition to the campaign contributions, TransCanada has previously reported spending more than $1.2 million on lobbying in Nebraska between 2006 and mid-2017.

Landowners in Nebraska have filed a lawsuit challenging the Nebraska Public Service Commission's decision to approve a route through the state.

In a separate legal challenge, Montana landowners and environmental groups have brought a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn President Donald Trump’s decision to grant a presidential permit for the project.

Last week, Trump administration attorneys defended the pipeline in federal court.

The Associated Press contrbuted to this report.