Who’ll win the influence struggle?


To the Editor:

If you want to run for Congress, you need money. A lot of money.

To win election, U.S. House members raised, on average, $1,900 per day, every day, for an entire two-year term — including weekends and holidays. That’s $1.4 million per House member, on average.

Winning senators raised $8.5 million, on average — $3,900 per day. (These figures are for the 2008 election, from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.)

The main sources of this campaign money are interest groups that want something from government. Once elected, politicians often pay back their campaign contributors with special access and favorable laws. This common practice is contrary to the public interest, yet legal.

The oil and gas industry is notable. The industry has donated $180 million to political candidates since 1989, making it the eighth biggest spender out of 80 industries analyzed. Between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil spent close to $67 million on in-house and contract lobbyists, ranking the company first for donations among all the oil and gas companies.

The return ExxonMobil and the industry gets for the millions it spends on lobbyists and campaign contributions comes back in the billions. The industry as a whole receives over $100 million per year in direct federal subsidies. Records filed with the Senate Public Records Office show that Exxon lobbyists focus most of their time on bills that address energy, global warming, environmental rules, and foreign policy. Targets of Exxon lobbyists are not just members of Congress, but nearly every agency as well. In 2005 alone, Exxon reported lobbying the State Department, White House, Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Department, Office of Management and Budget, Department of the Interior, and the Transportation Department. The 2005 Energy Bill is a prime example of how political dollars translate into legislation. The Energy Bill, in effect until 2010, authorized $4 billion in federal subsidies to the oil and gas industry.

Political spending by the coal industry is on track to exceed that of the 2008 cycle, when the presidency was at stake and Congress appeared determined to move forward with a national energy policy designed to address climate change by cutting back on the use of coal and petroleum.

Coal industry spending on campaigns and lobbying is substantial and growing.

In the October 29, 2010 New York Times article by John M. Broder, Luke Popovich, chief spokesman for the mining association, said, “We’re very concerned about the cost of a range of regulations that have been proposed or are pending and very concerned about what we view to be the very suspect science that E.P.A. says is behind the regulatory jihad against us.”

The E.P.A. says it is not at war with coal-mining companies or coal-burning utilities but is carrying out its legal mandate to protect public health and the environment.

“E.P.A. does not have a problem with coal, or any other industry,” said Brendan Gilfillan, a senior agency spokesman. “E.P.A. is committed to doing its job, which is to minimize the pollution that might come from these industries. E.P.A.’s actions are firmly grounded in both the best available science and the law — in fact, in many cases E.P.A. is operating under legal deadlines after rules from the previous administration were thrown out by the courts.”

It will be interesting as to whose words will resonate loudest in the halls of Congress, those originating from the deep pockets of Big Energy companies, or those emanating from the empty pockets of the purported anti-oil, anti-natural gas, and anti-coal “jihadists” who have been able to infiltrate the EPA.

Peter Cabana