Energy companies weigh their loyalty to long-time ally Murkowski

Miller is scheduled to visit Washington next week for a three-day blitz of fundraisers and was initially promised campaign help from energy companies. But with Murkowski still a candidate, that assistance is being reconsidered.

“The thinking is that prior to her getting back into the race, we would all have gladly lined up behind Joe Miller,” the first industry official said. “With her back in the race, frankly, that complicates things.”

One oil and gas industry official said Murkowski’s demotion on the Senate energy panel is merely one more factor to consider. “We haven’t made a decision yet” about whether to help Miller’s campaign, the energy official said.

Michael McKenna, a Republican adviser on environment and energy issues, said Alaska’s energy companies might try to avoid picking sides.

“Companies are completely risk-averse, and there’s nothing they hate worse than a situation where there’s not a clear-cut answer,” McKenna said. “So I suspect that what everybody’s going to do is sit on their hands.”

Some companies, including ConocoPhillips, have already maxed out their combined primary- and general-election contributions to Murkowski. Those companies have the luxury of not having to choose between the candidates, since campaign finance laws prevent them from supporting two competitors in the same race.

The Edison Electric Institute, the primary trade association for investor-owned utilities, and the American Chemistry Council have also maxed out their contributions to Murkowski and are not planning to contribute to Miller.

The day after announcing her write-in bid, Murkowski held a conference call with energy lobbyists asking for their support.

As ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee this Congress, Murkowski has been a close ally of energy companies, which makes it tough for them to oppose her now. 

“We certainly continue to support [Murkowski] as long as she stays in the race,” said Glenn English, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. 

Murkowski is a “very good friend to electric cooperatives,” English said. “And we support our friends. That’s pretty much the way it is.”

 Regardless of industry support, Murkowski faces long odds to win reelection as a write-in candidate, which means Miller could very well be in a position to represent the energy companies for the next six years if he wins the Senate seat.

 A Miller spokesman did not return an e-mail seeking comment Tuesday. Mike Gula — a principal founder of the Gula Graham Group and head of Miller’s fundraising in Washington — also declined to comment.

 But a source highly familiar with Miller’s D.C. fundraising effort said he is still expecting to raise money from all industrial sectors — including energy companies — when he visits next week.

Miller has not directly contacted companies for funds, though his Washington representatives have started to check in to gauge the level of support.

 So far industry officials are reporting little pressure from the National Republican Senatorial Committee to help Miller, though that may change depending on future polling results and his fundraising.