And while the 12-member “Super Congress” that will be appointed as part of the deal would technically put cuts to these subsidies on the table, you can bet oil companies will harness their significant political clout to keep their free money. With just 12 members to focus on—instead of 535--that pressure might be even stronger.
Why do these oil companies have so much sway? Just follow the money. A recent report from Public Campaign Action Fund and the League of Conservation Voters found that 93.5 percent (159 of 170) of U.S. House members who received campaign contributions from the political action committees (PACs) of the largest oil companies in the first half of the year voted to maintain these wasteful subsidies. And the three top Republicans in the House – House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorBottom line Virginia GOP candidates for governor gear up for convention Cantor: 'Level of craziness' in Washington has increased 'on both sides' MORE (R-Va.), and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) – received a combined $96,000 in dirty energy money from these PACs in the first six months of the year alone.
In the 2010 cycle, oil and gas interests spent $22.3 million on campaign contributions to members of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the first three months of 2011, the industry spent $39 million on 643 lobbyists, easily outnumbering the 535 representatives and senators we send to Washington to work for us.
Big Oil has been generous to members of Congress over the years, and in the pay to play ways of Washington, politicians avoid anything that disrupts or slows their steady fundraising stream. Recent votes and hearings in the House and Senate are a perfect example.
In May, just two days after voting to maintain the oil subsidies, Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoHouse Democrat: Staff is all vaccinated 'because they don't like to be dead' Interior reverses Trump, moves BLM headquarters back to DC Lobbying world MORE (R-Wyo.) held an “Oil & Gas Industry Breakfast” fundraiser. A day before the subsidies vote, BP’s political action committee delivered a $2,000 check to him.
The morning of the same vote, Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) held an “energy industry” breakfast fundraiser. The day before the vote and this fundraiser, he also got a $2,000 contribution from BP.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, held a public hearing on May 24th to lay blame on government regulations of energy production for distorting markets. On May 25th, Issa’s leadership PAC got $2,500 from the PAC of energy industry giant Koch Industries.
The list goes on. But you get the point. Members of Congress are serving two masters in Congress, their constituents and their dirty energy campaign donors. Too often, it’s the latter that wins out.
Congress needs to end its dependence on all special interest money, not just Big Oil’s money, by passing the Fair Elections Now Act, legislation that would allow members of Congress to run competitive campaigns for office by relying on people back home. With Fair Elections, members of Congress could vote based on what’s best for their country and constituents, not their campaign bank accounts.
But until then, though, Congress needs to get its priorities straight. Ending these wasteful subsidies should come before cutting Medicare or other programs that provide security for middle class families. A lot of people in Washington are talking about “shared sacrifice” to address our deficit. Any sane plan to rein in spending should include ending wasteful subsidies, but to do that, we may find out that we will need to rein in Big Oil’s political influence first.
Steve Kretzmann is the executive director of Oil Change International. David Donnelly is the national campaigns director for Public Campaign Action Fund. Both organizations are founding members of the Dirty Energy Money Campaign.