How The Big Oil Lobby Secretly Funded 2012 Election Attack Ads

When Big Oil’s lobby, the American Petroleum Institute, ramped up its election-year spending, API President Jack Gerard said “This is not about political party.”

But in addition to its misleading multi-million dollar public campaign, API also funneled at least half a million dollars through groups that ran attack ads against Democratic candidates.

That’s according to disclosures reported by Lee Fang at The Nation, which show that API used membership dues to finance several dark money groups:

• $50,000 to Americans for Prosperity’s 501(c)(4) group, which ran ads against President Obama and congressional Democrats.• $412,969 to Coalition for American Jobs’ 501(c)(6) group, a front set up by API lobbyists to air ads for industry-friendly politicians, including former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA).• $25,000 to the Sixty Plus Association’s 501(c)(4), which ran ads against congressional Democrats.

Public relations were also a priority for the lobby in 2011. Fang notes that API spent over $68 million for a public relations firm’s services, $5.4 million at a “coalition building” firm, and $4 million at an advocacy firm connected to the Bush White House that “works with corporations to help them communicate with workers on how to vote.


The oil industry has long-held ties to Republicans. Gerard, personally connected to Mitt Romney, was a rumored favorite for a cabinet appointment. The industry donates to Republican candidates 90 percent of the time. The Supreme Court Citizens United decision opened up another avenue for API to fund political advocacy, now allowing the trade association to quietly fund political ads.

After the election, spending on API-branded ads has only picked up pace. It has already spent $3 million on ads since November 6, including $600,000 in 2014 battlegrounds that aim to protect billions of dollars in oil tax breaks.