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Big Oil’s Favorite Senators

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A minority group of senators last week prevented a comprehensive bipartisan tax package from passing as part of the Senate-approved energy legislation. The amendment would have established economic incentives for the development of clean, alternative energy technologies, closed loopholes for big oil, and recovered unpaid royalties on oil from federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s not surprising that the oil lobby fought hard to kill these measures, but it is notable that the 35 senators voting against the amendment have on average received three times as many campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry as their colleagues.

The 35 senators that voted with big oil and against the tax package received an average of $161,382 in contributions from the oil and gas industry between 2002 and 2007, while the 58 senators that voted for the package received an average of only $56,942 over that same period. (View a breakdown of all oil and gas industry campaign contributions here.)

Due to these 35 senators, the tax package written by Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) fell two votes short of the super majority it needed to overcome a filibuster.

There are 28 senators who plan or are likely to seek reelection in 2008; 16 helped block the tax package by voting “no” on cloture, and 12 voted “yes” to allow the measure to go to vote.

The average “no”-vote senator running for reelection in 2008 received $181,682 from the oil and gas industry, and senators on the ballot in 2008 voting “yes” received an average of only $81,886. Several senators who may have close races next year voted against allowing the measure to go to vote, including: Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and, John Sununu (R-NH). (View a breakdown of all oil and gas industry campaign contributions to ’08 candidates here.)

Do these campaign contribution differences demonstrate that senators who voted to block the clean energy tax package are on the take from big oil? Of course not. But it does show that even a truly bipartisan energy tax package that would invest in clean energy for vehicles, fuels, and electricity can suffer defeat at the hands of big oil’s allies. Given its nearly $8.5 million in direct campaign contributions to senators, it is unsurprising that when big oil knocks, enough senators answer the call to thwart the will of a majority of their colleagues.

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