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Big Oil Spouts Big Money for GOP Candidates

On Defense After Gulf Coast Spill, Industry Turns Up Political Heat

As their lobbyists fend off Congressional efforts to repeal industry tax breaks and curb offshore drilling, oil companies are pouring big bucks into the campaigns of GOP candidates who they believe will offer a more sympathetic ear than the Democratic majority.

Ever since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last spring, Big Oil has been on the defensive, as Democratic leaders and the White House have tried to end what they view as lax oversight and generous tax treatment of the industry.

The oil companies, led by their trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, have responded by staging rallies around the country and launching a major advertising campaign that criticizes proposals to increase energy taxes.

API President Jack Gerard said Tuesday that the group plans to extend the ad campaign and set up an online rally on its website as a follow-up to seven actual rallies that it sponsored in five states this month to whip up support among industry employees.

“Now that we’re back in Washington, we are going to keep the rally energy growing and plan to mobilize even more people as a part of our expanding grass-roots network,” Gerard said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

This week, API lobbied against an amendment sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to the small-business bill that would have repealed a manufacturing deduction for the industry. The Senate on Tuesday defeated the measure.

Unlike the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some other downtown groups, Gerard said API would not be deploying its resources to help individual candidates or party organizations.

But API has posted on its website a voter guide that is expected to include a chart that will show lawmakers’ votes on three pieces of legislation of importance to the industry.

Earlier this week, the organization briefly published ratings of Senate and House Members based on votes taken during the two most recent sessions of Congress. Those ratings included scores for all lawmakers, and the results showed most Republicans garnering far higher grades than Democrats.

API spokeswoman Cathy Landry, however, said that those ratings, compiled by the Business Industry Political Action Committee were put up mistakenly by the vendor and that API never intended to post cumulative scores on lawmakers.

Showing GOP the Money

Even though API may be trying to steer clear of overt partisan politics, its largest member companies have clearly been showing their favoritism toward GOP candidates this election cycle.

Political action committees for oil and gas producers have contributed $2 million to Republican candidates and $594,000 to Democrats, according to an analysis by CQ MoneyLine. The same analysis also showed that oil refineries have given $835,000 to GOP contenders and $398,000 to Democrats.

Oil and gas exploration and development companies favored Republican candidates by a 3-to-1 margin, while oilfield service companies are giving to the GOP by an almost 8-to-1 margin.

The giving by the largest oil companies is also lopsided, with 83.6 percent of
ExxonMobil’s PAC contributions and about three-quarters of the PAC contributions by Chevron and ConocoPhillips going to Republicans.

The largest energy sector contributions were made by Koch Industries, which shelled out almost $657,000 to Republicans and $101,000 to Democrats. Separately, the libertarian-leaning Koch family has given more than $1 million to Republican groups, most of it to the Republican Governors Association.

Oil industry experts say it is no secret that oil executives, who have historically been more aligned with the Republican Party, would like to see the GOP back in charge on Capitol Hill.

“There is no question they are predominately Republican in their thinking,” said former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas), a one-time Blue Dog Coalition member who now lobbies for the oil industry, including API.

Stenholm, who works for the Olsson Frank law firm, said Democrats have hurt themselves with many in the industry and with the public by pushing too hard against climate change and moratoriums on drilling.

“Too many of my fellow Democrats are too anti-oil for the country’s own good,” he said.

Stenholm also said that even some of his fellow Blue Dog Democrats have not heeded his advice to reject some of the energy measures pushed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Voting With Oil

In the BIPAC ratings that API pulled off its website, a number of Blue Dogs and oil-patch lawmakers fared slightly better than some of their more liberal Democratic colleagues when it came to oil industry issues. For example, Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.) voted with the industry on half of the selected measures chosen for the ratings, while Rep. Gene Green (Texas) voted with the industry on four out of 10 measures.

Not all Republicans ranked well on the scale, either. Among the lowest-ranked GOP Members was Rep. Mike Castle (Del.), who received a 10 percent rating. Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins scored a zero rating, joining 34 Democratic Senators.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.) had the top rating of any Democrat in that chamber, voting with Big Oil on two-thirds of the measures. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) received a 50 percent score. Twenty-three Senators, all Republicans, received a 100 percent rating, voting with the industry on issues such as climate change and drilling.

Mobilizing the Astroturf?

Critics have decried the efforts by the oil industry to stir up public support, saying the API rallies do not really represent a cross section of the population. Instead, they say, they are pep rallies filled with oil company employees.

“This is not grass roots. They are Astroturf,” said Daniel Weiss, director of climate strategy at the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Weiss, however, acknowledged that it may be politically beneficial for API to take the lead in promoting such events because many people don’t associate the trade organization with BP, the British-based company that polls show has become extremely unpopular since the April oil spill.

“API is a much more benign name,” he said.

And smaller industry groups, such as shallow-water drillers, say they are spending the next few weeks trying to ensure that Congress doesn’t pass legislation that would limit their operations.

“We’re focusing on actual pieces of legislation,” said Jim Noe, senior vice president of Hercules Offshore and executive director of Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition.

At the same time, Noe said his colleagues in the industry are closely following politics.

“There is more attention on the election than I’ve ever seen in the industry,” he said.