Big Oil’s Favorite Representatives

A clean energy incentives tax package, H.R. 2776, passed in the House of Representatives on August 4 as an essential element of New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act, H.R. 3221. The tax package would eliminate $16 billion worth of tax loopholes that benefit big oil and recover unpaid royalties on oil and gas from federal waters off the Gulf of Mexico in order to fund billions of dollars in clean alternative energy technologies such as wind and solar power, clean alternative fuels, and energy efficiency.

The House passed legislation, H.R. 6, that closed the same loopholes and recovered lost royalties in January. But in the Senate, the oil lobby convinced enough members to oppose a similar clean energy incentives tax package that it was defeated by a 58-36 vote, with 60 votes needed to end debate and pass the package.

It is no surprise that the oil lobby fought hard to do the same thing in the House. The big oil companies scoured the halls of Congress in the days leading up to the vote hoping to convince a majority of representatives to oppose H.R. 2776. An important tool in big oil’s arsenal was the $29 million in campaign contributions that it donated to the representatives serving in the 110th Congress between 1989 and 2006. These contributions are a trivial investment compared to the $16 billion in tax loopholes and royalty relief that the big oil companies want to maintain.

The 189 representatives that voted with big oil and against the clean energy tax package received on average four times as many campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry as their colleagues who voted for it. These 189 representatives received an average of $109,277 in contributions from the oil and gas industry between 1989 and 2006. The 221 representatives that voted for the package received an average of only $26,277 over that same period. View an extensive breakdown of all oil and gas industry campaign contributions here.

Interestingly, there is a larger contribution difference between members who won a close race in 2006 than among House members as a whole. Close races are those with winners who garner 55 percent or less of the vote. Representatives that won by this narrow margin who voted against the clean energy tax package received an average of $101,270 from oil and gas entities. The victors in these narrow races who voted for the tax package received a paltry average of $9,837. In other words, close race winners who voted with big oil received 10 times more campaign contributions than their counterparts who voted for the tax package. View an extensive breakdown of oil and gas industry campaign contributions in close races here. compiled this data based on Federal Election Commission records, and did not report any oil and gas contributions for 25 of the representatives who narrowly won in 2006. Twenty-two were Democrats, and three were Republicans. All of these members had one thing in common—they were running for their first term.

Of the three first-time winners that voted against the tax package, two ran for open seats and one beat an incumbent in the primary. On the other hand, 15 of the 21 members without reported oil contributions who won close races and voted for the tax package were challengers.[1] Many of their incumbent opponents—such as Resources Committee Chair Richard Pombo (R-CA) and Rep. Anne Northup (R-KY)—were well entrenched with a long record of support for the oil and gas industry and received a large amount of campaign cash that reflected their efforts.[2] Many of these challengers made support for clean energy a prominent element of their campaign and highlighted their opponents’ support for oil industry tax breaks and loopholes.

Do these campaign contribution differences demonstrate that representatives who voted against the clean energy tax package are on the take from big oil? Of course not. But it does show that representatives who receive significantly more oil and gas campaign contributions were significantly more likely to oppose a tax package that invests in clean energy for vehicles, fuels, and electricity. Given big oil’s $29 million in direct campaign contributions to representatives, it is unsurprising that when big oil knocks, many representatives answer the call.

Fortunately, a majority of the House stood up to big oil to vote for the clean energy tax package. Its fate will be decided as part of this fall’s Senate-House conference committee that will attempt to reconcile differences in the Senate and House versions of their energy bills. The Senate and House members of the conference committee haven’t been named yet, but undoubtedly several of big oil’s closest allies—and largest recipients of their campaign cash—will be among the handful of senators and representatives who will decide the fate of the clean energy tax package and the rest of the energy bill. Stay tuned.