Races to Watch IV: Money Flowing from Oil and Gas
Republicans have historically been the industry's favorite, bringing in as much as 82 percent of the contributions from oil and gas companies in the 2006 election cycle. Of the $12.3 million the industry has given to congressional candidates this cycle, Republicans have collected 75 percent. Nine of the top 10 Senate candidates and eight of the top 10 House candidates who have received the most oil money this cycle are Republicans.
The energy-related issues playing a role in the congressional races this year are numerous. Gas prices hit a new record, and renewable energy is now competing with oil and gas for subsidies. The ban on offshore drilling is likely to be lifted, and many candidates for Congress, particularly those from coastal states, are using this as a major part of their platform.
"I think energy is a big issue on people's minds mainly because of the rise in cost of gasoline, and the rise in cost of home utility bills, especially electricity," said Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution. "The electricity bills in some northeastern states could go up to $1,500 a month this winter. These two things are perceived to be hitting people's pocketbooks the hardest. This is why issues like offshore drilling and nuclear energy are being discussed much more widely."
There is a lot at stake for the oil and gas industry this year--and for the politicians who hope to keep or gain a seat in Congress. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics has identified the candidates who have received the most money from oil and gas interests in this election cycle, and Capital Eye selected a few races to more deeply examine the impact of well-digger dollars on politics.
"Oil and gas money always plays a prominent role in politics, because there is so much of it," said Daniel J. Weiss, an energy and climate expert at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. "Oil company lobbyists are trying to protect their record profits by opposing an end to industry tax breaks. They're giving a lot of money to people who support those tax breaks."
Here are a few oil-supported races to watch:
Louisiana Senate Race
|Mary L. Landrieu (D)*|
Total Raised: $9,493,299
Total from oil and gas companies: $305,950
|John Neely Kennedy (R)|
Total Raised: $5,622,089
Total from oil and gas companies: $117,900
This election cycle, only Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) have received more money than Louisiana incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu from the oil and gas industry. Her nearly $306,000 haul is a particularly noteworthy accomplishment given that Landrieu is a Democrat and the oil and gas industry heavily favors Republicans. Landrieu's opponent, Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy, hasn't exactly been ignored by the industry, however, having pocketed more than $117,000 himself. Because the oil and gas industry plays such a big role in Louisiana, constituents there may not see the contributions as being tainted, the way constituents in other parts of the country might.
"Oil and gas provide the backbone for the Louisiana economy," said Scott Schneider, spokesman for the Landrieu campaign. "It's the source of thousands of jobs in the state and on the Gulf Coast." According to the state government, Louisiana is the number-one producer of crude oil and the number-two producer of natural gas among the 50 states. As a hub of the energy industry, and one of the few states where offshore drilling is permitted, oil money has always had a significant role in Louisiana politics.
The main reason that the oil and gas industry has been so supportive of Landrieu may be because of her action on offshore drilling. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Landrieu became the first Louisiana lawmaker to push through legislation allowing the Pelican State to recoup lost revenue by sharing royalties from offshore drilling, according to Congressional Quarterly. During fiscal year 2007, Louisiana received $23.1 million from offshore leases--and the state expects this number to go up dramatically in the next decade--and has put the funds toward coastal restoration. Those receiving a piece of the offshore pie have not been shy about contributing to Landrieu: oil rig operator Edison Chouest Offshore ranks fourth among her top contributors between 2003 and 2008.
Landrieu can use every dollar she can raise, as the she seems to be the only Senate incumbent that Democrats fear will lose a seat. "The Republican Party was a beneficiary of the demographic shakeup statewide, there is no question about that," said Thomas Langston, a political scientist at Tulane University in New Orleans. "Yellow dog Dems have been slow to die in Louisiana, and Katrina gave them a push into the grave, because Republicans realize they can win as Republicans." Another upshot for challenger Kennedy's chances is the high approval rating for Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. In addition, President Bush's approval rating in Louisiana is higher than the national average. However, it may be harder for Kennedy to lay his claim to the GOP since he only became a Republican in 2007.
Kennedy, too, supports offshore drilling, and his campaign said he'd like to see it expanded to end the nation's dependence on foreign oil, spokesman Kyle Plotkin said. "John Kennedy supports drilling everywhere, including the Outer Continental Shelf and [the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve], developing oil shale in the West, investing in clean and renewable energy and conservation," he said.
North Carolina Senate Race
|Elizabeth Dole (R)*|
Total Raised: $11,271,438
Total from oil and gas companies: $124,527
|Kay R. Hagan (D)|
Total Raised: $3,059,918
Total from oil and gas companies: $5,550
The oil and gas industry has given incumbent Elizabeth Dole 22 times more money than Democratic challenger Kay Hagan. Of the candidates for Senate this election cycle, Dole is among the top 10 recipients of oil and gas money--an obvious industry favorite. But despite her enormous financial advantage in this area (and overall), this race supports the notion that money can't buy everything, as these two political veterans are now racing neck-and-neck to Election Day. Recent polls show that this is going to be a close race, and one where the energy debate is a priority for both campaigns.
Both Hagan and Dole have come out in support of offshore drilling, but this is a reversal for both candidates. Before this summer, Dole and Hagan supported a federal moratorium on oil exploration off North Carolina's coast. Historically, many lawmakers have been staunchly opposed to offshore drilling for environmental concerns and the damaging effects it would have on tourism, but sky-high gas prices have caused politicians to re-consider their position.
Part of the energy debate strategy of both candidates in this race has been accusing the other of profiting off of the oil and gas industry. The Dole campaign ran an ad accusing Hagan herself of owning wells and profiting every time North Carolinians go to the gas pump. The News & Observer called the ad inaccurate, because it's Hagan's husband who has investments in companies that own domestic wells, and the Hagans do not own any wells themselves. The Hagan campaign shot back by broadcasting that Bob Dole, Elizabeth Dole's husband and a former Senate majority leader, has a $1 million stake in an offshore hedge fund that speculates on oil. According to the Hagan campaign, the Dole hedge fund investment raises a question: whether Dole's vote against more regulation of hedge funds that speculate on the oil market was motivated by personal financial gain.
While both campaigns are up in arms trying to prove that the other's personal finances make them beholden to Big Oil, there is no question about who is receiving more contributions. Not only has Dole received more than Hagan this election cycle by leaps and bounds, she's raked in more than $277,700 from the oil and gas industry during her Senate career. Since her first run for Senate in 2002, oil and gas companies have been among Dole's top 20 industry supporters. They have no effect on her legislative decisions, though, said Dan McLagan, spokesman for the Dole campaign. "Sen. Dole has never been beholden to any donor," he said, citing Dole's co-sponsorship of the Clean Energy Investment Act, a bill that would establish a government-run bank to assist in the financing, and facilitate the commercial use, of clean energy and energy-efficient technologies within the United States.
Where these candidates stand on energy issues will come into play for North Carolina voters on Election Day. "Working families spent the entire month of August having to pay more and more for gas," said Colleen Flanagan, spokeswoman for the Hagan campaign. "People in Greenville, Asheville and Raleigh, they aren't in the Senate listening to the back and forth. They're feeling it at the cash register."
New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District
|Harry Teague (D)|
Total Raised: $1,529,892
Total from oil and gas companies: $68,700
|Edward Tinsley (R)|
Total Raised: $1,091,355
Total from oil and gas companies: $43,950
Rep. Steve Pearce is retiring from his 2nd District seat to run for Senate, leaving it to candidates Harry Teague (D) and Ed Tinsley (R) to vie for his spot. The 2nd District, which sprawls over half of New Mexico, is littered with thousands of oil wells. Teague, like Louisiana's Sen. Mary Landrieu, is an anomaly for being a Democrat who's received more money from the oil and gas industry than his Republican opponent. However, party titles in this race are deceptive; it's really more about energy politics. Both candidates have ties to the oil industry: Teague owns an oil field services company, and Tinsley is an oil investor (and restaurant owner). Tinsley is favored slightly, but Teague is raising more money and it's stacking up to be pretty competitive.
Teague is not concerned about his professional background in the oil industry, "My experience in the energy industry is an asset. I've worked in the oil fields, but I also helped to bring wind farms and nuclear energy facilities to New Mexico," Teague said in an e-mail from his spokesman. "The only way we will solve the energy crisis is by drawing on all of these sources to become energy independent, and as a member of the majority caucus in Congress, I will be able to help shape a comprehensive solution to our energy problem."
The oil industry is the top industry supporter for Teague and ranks second for Tinsley. Teaco Energy Company (Teague's own company) accounts for nearly half of the money he received from the oil and gas industry, at $32,200. It should be noted that this is not money Teague is giving to his own candidacy; it's all donations from company employees, according to campaign finance records. However, both Teague and Tinsley have injected their campaign chest with a sizable chunk of their own money: $768,900 and $235,000, respectively, through June.
"Being tied to the oil industry is not as damaging in this district as it would be in another district," said Joe Monahan, a New Mexico political blogger. "[Teague] is a good candidate. He is going to get Republican votes and Democrat votes who might otherwise crossover. It's a district where there are more registered Democrats than Republicans, but those Democrats have been crossing over for many years to vote for Republican congressional candidates."
Normally an oilman running on the Democratic ticket--who could alienate Democrats with his industry ties and Republicans with his social values--would be something of a political misfit, but in this region of New Mexico, Teague might be just right. "He would not be as competitive as he is today, if he were more liberal," said Michael Rocca, a political scientist at the University of New Mexico.
CRP Researcher Douglas Weber contributed to this report.
Campaign Fuel: House candidates getting the most from the oil and gas industry
|Name||Race|| Incumbent/Challenger/ |
|Dan Boren (D)||Oklahoma 02||Incumbent|| |
|Joe Barton (R)||Texas 06||Incumbent|| |
|Mike Conaway (R)||Texas 11||Incumbent|| |
|Roy Blunt (R)||Missouri 07||Incumbent|| |
|Charles J. Melancon (D)||Louisiana 03||Incumbent|| |
|Mary Fallin (R)||Oklahoma 05||Incumbent|| |
|Charles W. Boustany Jr (R)||Louisiana 07||Incumbent|| |
|John Culberson (R)||Texas 07||Incumbent|| |
|Todd Tiahrt (R)||Kansas 04||Incumbent|| |
|Kay Granger (R)||Texas 12||Incumbent|| |
|John Sullivan (R)||Oklahoma 01||Incumbent|| |
|Randy Neugebauer (R)||Texas 19||Incumbent|| |
|Jim Matheson (D)||Utah 02||Incumbent|| |
|Chet Edwards (D)||Texas 17||Incumbent|| |
|Harry Teague (D)||New Mexico 02||Open Seat|| |
|Tom Cole (R)||Oklahoma 04||Incumbent|| |
|Peter Graham Olson (R)||Texas 22||Challenger|| |
|Gene Green (D)||Texas 29||Incumbent|| |
|Gregg Harper (R)||Mississippi 03||Open Seat|| |
|Pete Sessions (R)||Texas 32||Incumbent|| |
Totals based on data released electronically by the Federal Election Commission on Sept. 2, 2008.
Senate candidates getting the most from the oil and gas industry
|Name||State|| Incumbent/Challenger/ |
|John Cornyn (R)||Texas||Incumbent|| |
|James M. Inhofe (R)||Oklahoma||Incumbent|| |
|Mary L. Landrieu (D)||Louisiana||Incumbent|| |
|Mitch McConnell (R)||Kentucky||Incumbent|| |
|Steve Pearce (R)||New Mexico||Open Seat|| |
|Pat Roberts (R)||Kansas||Incumbent|| |
|Lamar Alexander (R)||Tennessee||Incumbent|| |
|Bob Schaffer (R)||Colorado||Open Seat|| |
|Ted Stevens (R)||Alaska||Incumbent|| |
|Norm Coleman (R)||Minnesota||Incumbent|| |
|Elizabeth Dole (R)||North Carolina||Incumbent|| |
|John Neely Kennedy (R)||Louisiana||Challenger|| |
|Max Baucus (D)||Montana||Incumbent|| |
|John A. Barrasso (R)||Wyoming||Incumbent|| |
|Roger Wicker (R)||Mississippi||Incumbent|| |
|Mark Pryor (D)||Arkansas||Incumbent|| |
|Saxby Chambliss (R)||Georgia||Incumbent|| |
|John E. Sununu (R)||New Hampshire||Incumbent|| |
|Jeff Sessions (R)||Alabama||Incumbent|| |
|Thad Cochran (R)||Mississippi||Incumbent|| |