Big Polluters’ Big Ad Spending in the 2012 Elections

Oil well pump jacks of Chevron Corp. are shown in the hills in Coalinga, California.

The 2012 campaign season was one of the most expensive in history, with an estimated $6 billion spent on television ads in races up and down the ticket. Not surprisingly, corporate polluters and other dirty energy interests were some of the largest outside spenders in the 2012 campaign cycle. These groups—which include Restore Our Future, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Energy Alliance, Americans for Prosperity, Crossroads GPS, and several more—bet big and lost big.

In just the last two months of the campaign, outside groups linked to dirty energy sources or the promotion of a dirty energy agenda spent more than $270 million on TV ads in the presidential, House, and Senate races and industry ads promoting oil, gas, and coal interest, and more than $31 million was spent on energy-related ads, according to a Center for American Progress Action Fund analysis of data from Kantar Media’s CMAG. This includes more than $109 million spent in congressional races with $21.7 million on energy-specific ads. During that time, more than 59,600 spots ran on energy and environmental issues in the presidential race and key House and Senate races.

Since April outside polluter allied groups spent $265.9 million on campaign ads in the presidential race alone, with $15.7 million going toward energy-related issues. These groups also spent more than $111.5 million in Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Colorado, putting more than $6.2 million specifically toward energy-related ads. Yet they failed to unseat President Barack Obama, who won the election with at least 303 electoral votes.

These outside polluter-backed groups spent more than $60 million since September to influence Senate races, but candidates that supported clean energy and common-sense public health protections for our air and water were elected to the Senate in key areas. Senate races in Montana, Ohio, and Virginia, for example, saw $17.3 million spent in outside polluter-backed TV ads over the past two months, with $6 million on energy-related ads attacking Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Senate candidate Tim Kaine (D-VA). Both Sen. Brown and Sen.-elect Kaine defeated their polluter-backed opponents. The Montana senate race is still too close to call.

These same polluter interests also spent more than $49.7 million since September to influence House races, including $12.9 million on energy-related ads, but candidates in key races that supported clean energy and common-sense public health protections won.

In addition to dirty energy groups’ direct spending on specific electoral campaigns, they also pumped millions of dollars into generic “branding” campaigns promoting oil, gas, and coal interests, such as the American Petroleum Institute’s “I’m an Energy Voter” campaign. From September 1 through November 5, for example, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity and the American Petroleum Institute spent $5.5 million on these types of ads.

It’s clear that the voters have spoken and rejected these special interest appeals to keep special tax breaks for Big Oil and their allies and reject pollution reductions. Now it’s time to move forward with a clean energy and clean air agenda that protects our health, creates American jobs, secures our energy future, and addresses climate change.

Noreen Nielsen is the Energy Communications Director for the Think Progress War Room at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Note: Groups with clear polluter ties and/or groups that ran ads promoting pro-fossil fuel interests include: American Action Network; American Chemistry Council; American Commitment; American Energy Alliance; American Future Fund; Americans for Job Security; Americans for Prosperity; Americans for Tax Reform; Center for Individual Freedom; Checks and Balances for Economic Growth; Citizens for a Working America PAC; Club for Growth; Congressional Leadership Fund; American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS; Ending Spending Fund; Let Freedom Ring; National Association of Manufacturers; National Federation of Independent Businesses; National Mining Association; Now or Never PAC; Restore Our Future; Super PAC for America; Treasure Coast Jobs Coalition;, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; American Petroleum Institute; American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity; and Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports.