BP Enjoys Lobbying Strength, Close Ties to Lawmakers as Federal Investigation Looms
by Cassandra LaRussa
On Thursday, oil giant BP asked for U.S. government assistance in cleaning up massive amounts of crude oil ominously approaching the coast of Louisiana -- the messy results of a recent oil rig explosion 40 miles off-shore.
In response, the Obama administration promised support in both clean up and containment of the environmental crisis. The president also sent clear signals indicating a potential federal investigation to determine cause and responsibility for the accident.
If BP faces heavy federal scrutiny, it's well-positioned to fight back: The London-based company has consistently spent top dollar to influence legislative and regulatory activity in Washington, D.C., the Center for Responsive Politics finds.
During the 2008 election cycle, individuals and political action committees associated with BP -- a Center for Responsive Politics' "heavy hitter" -- contributed half a million dollars to federal candidates. About 40 percent of these donations went to Democrats. The top recipient of BP-related donations during the 2008 cycle was President Barack Obama himself, who collected $71,000.
BP regularly lobbies on Capitol Hill, as well. In 2009, the company spent a massive $16 million to influence legislation. During the first quarter of 2010, it spent $3.53 million on federal lobbying efforts, ranking it second (behind ConocoPhillips) among all oil and gas industry interests.
Its registered lobbyists include a number of former federal government and high-ranking political campaign officials, including longtime political operative Tony Podesta, former congressional chief of staff Bob Brooks, former congressional legislative director David Pore and vice presidential aide Michael S. Berman, the Center's research shows.
The oil and gas industry, of which BP is a member, reported $169 million in 2009 lobbying expenditures.
Comparatively, the entire environmental industry spent $22 million on lobbying in 2009 -- not much more than BP alone spent for the year. The most active member of the environmental industry, the Nature Conservancy, reported $2.2 million in 2009 expenditures. Last year, BP was active lobbying on the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009, which allows increased oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico, in areas closer to shore than current law allows.
The bill also calls for additional research and inventory of oil and gas reserves in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who has received $14,000 in campaign donations during the past two decades from those associated with BP, the Center finds.
In 2009, BP also lobbied on the Oil Spill Prevention Act of 2009 and the Clean Water Restoration Act.
The oil spill, which has yet to be remedied, was caused by an explosion on a BP-leased oil rig on April 20.
A state of emergency has since been enacted in Louisiana, and the White House has designated it an event of "national significance." The oil well is reportedly leaking between 1,000 and 5,000 barrels a day, and rescue crews are trying to eliminate the oil by setting it on fire, breaking it up with chemicals and skimming it off the surface of the ocean. Already, questions are being asked about cause and responsibility.
Upon hearing the cry for help in the Gulf of Mexico, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Cal.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called for a "full blown investigation."
In 2009, individuals and political action committees associated with BP donated $16,000 to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
In addition, five of the all-time top 10 recipients of BP money in the House of Representatives sit on the House Energy Committee: John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) Joe Barton (R-Tex.), Ralph M. Hall (R-Tex.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Fred Upton, (R-Mich.).
All have received upward of $13,000 from BP-related individuals and political action committees during the past two decades. Dingell, the second most favored recipient of BP money in the House, has received $31,000.