Aqua America has regularly backed dozens of Pennsylvania political candidates financially since 2005. The company has spent $153,750 on contributions to state and local candidates this year alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Last week, the company announced it would purchase Peoples Gas for $4.3 billion.
Both companies have been eyeing the struggling Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and have expressed interest in providing water to the city.
Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, a Republican from Allegheny County, has received more than $50,967.67 in campaign contributions from individuals and a political action committee all affiliated with Aqua America since 2007. Turzai has been in favor of privatizing the PWSA because of what he calls "continued mismanagement." Turzai has long advocated privatizing public entities like the state store system. His support of privatizing the PWSA dates back at least to 2004, when he proposed it in a memo, provided by his office, to the city's Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority.
In a press release from July, the Speaker said, "There is a reason why you never read about a private company doing these types of things; it’s because they would never be allowed to get away with operating way the PWSA has."
Turzai was a prime sponsor of a bill, backed unanimously, to bring PWSA under the oversight of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission. That means the authority now has to get approval from the commission before it can raise rates for customers, a public process which invites input from residents and other outside entities.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Peoples Natural Gas filed a formal complaint with the PUC regarding PWSA's proposed rate increases.
The company's CEO Christopher Franklin said the PAC financially backs politicians, such as Turzai, who are supportive of Aqua America's stance on water related issues.
"We're generally in support of a thought that the private sector can play a role in a lot of these solutions," Franklin said. "We give to people who typically understand and take an interest in water-related issues or environmental-related issues."
Aqua America gives to politicians on both sides of the aisle, including Democratic State Senator Andy Dinniman. He represents part of the coverage area of the Chester Water Authority -- which Aqua America is seeking to acquire. Dinniman opposes that move.
"If we continue this trend of allowing public companies to take over water and wastewater authorities, the cost is going to be higher and higher," Dinniman said. "Hopefully many of us who might have received funding from Aqua are not afraid to speak out about this larger issue."
Since 2014, Aqua America has acquired 45 water and wastewater companies nationwide, including 11 in Pennsylvania.
This post was updated on Monday, October 29 at 3:02 p.m.