The Senate minority who last week blocked a vote on ending Big Oil subsidies received more than four times the oil and gas contributions than the 51 senators voting to end them. Exxon Mobil, the world’s most profitable corporation, has helped preserve these and other loopholes for oil and gas by building a Washington force tied intimately to conservative lawmakers, Steve Coll reports in this week’s New Yorker. The corporation relies on an algorithm to determine tiers of oil industry allies and sent 90 percent of contributions to Republicans last year.
Lacking the same connections it had from the Clinton and Bush administrations, Exxon’s strategy has shifted in Washington to pursuing a “blocking strategy” that thwarts climate and tax reform legislation:
During both the Bush and the Obama Administrations, ExxonMobil has concentrated its efforts in Washington on preventing certain tax and regulatory bills from being enacted, such as Obama’s proposal, this winter, to strip away industry tax advantages. The corporation has invested mainly in a blocking strategy, focussing its PAC donations on Republicans who can try to assure that no damaging laws go through. “Whoever’s in power in the House has almost dictatorial power,” a Washington consultant who has worked on oil-industry issues says. “If you control what’s going on in the House, you have huge influence over the final” legislation, as well as over the budgets and spending mandates that shape regulation.”
In the past decade, the leading recipient of ExxonMobil PAC contributions has been Representative Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, who has held senior positions on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where most legislation affecting the oil industry originates. Anne Northup, a former Republican congresswoman from Kentucky, who now serves on the Consumer Product Safety Commission, received the second largest amount of campaign money. ExxonMobil’s ten leading campaign contribution recipients in that decade were all House Republicans, according to research done by the journalist Ann O’Hanlon.
Exxon is the largest political contributor in the oil and gas industry, spending nearly a million so far in the 2012 election cycle and another $12.7 million in 2011; it also funds corporate front group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The strategy has paid off for Exxon, which made 35 percent higher profits last year on higher gas prices, yet paid a lower federal tax rate of an estimated 13 percent.