Large energy industries, led by oil and gas, have spent a combined $2.9 billion over the past decade on electing candidates, lobbying for industry-friendly policy, and swaying regulators in their favor, according to a report
released Tuesday by Common Cause, a nonpartisan organization that monitors money in politics.
Since 1990, donations to lawmakers from employees of energy companies and their political action committees have increased more than 300 percent, according to the report, which is based on public data from the Center for Responsive Politics
, a government watchdog group.
While the fact that major industries shower Washington with cash should surprise no one, the numbers are staggering when broken down by member. Energy industries -- just one slice of the private sector -- spent the equivalent of $5.5 million per seat for all 535 seats in the Senate and House of Representatives from 2001 through the first half of 2010. During the first quarter of 2010, energy interests spent $3.2 million per day that Congress was in session -- about $244,000 per member. Only the health care industry spent more.
"Campaigns are getting more expensive and the public policy stakes are growing higher," said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause. "If we keep going at this rate, we are going to have a corporate-run democracy."
Energy interests tend to favor Republicans, the report found, but their dollars also follow power. Donations to Republicans soared during the Bush administration, when Vice President Dick Cheney manned a secretive energy task force that sought input from industry and delivered a steady stream of perks to corporations. When Democrats regained Congress in 2006, their receipt of energy money increased dramatically. So far this year, Republicans have only a slight edge in donations from oil, gas, mining, and other energy interests.
Boyle said the "pay-to-play game" in Washington would only grow worse after the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
to give corporate speech protection under the First Amendment, effectively prohibiting the federal government from placing limits on the money corporate interests shower on political campaigns.
"Members of Congress are looking over their shoulder," Boyle said. "They are trying to legislate in an environment where they know that if they cast a vote that is to the dislike of a major corporation in their district or anywhere else, that corporation -- or union, for that matter -- can unleash an entire campaign against them. That makes it very hard to legislate in the public interest."
Energy interests have been particularly generous to lawmakers in a position to serve their interests, concentrating their spending on leading lawmakers who serve on energy and regulatory committees.
An analysis by MAPLight
, a group that traces influence from money to policy, says that energy dollars have had a direct impact on votes. Before lawmakers voted on Senate Joint Resolution 26
, for example, which would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from trying to limit motor vehicle emissions, energy interests gave more than $29,000 to the campaigns of each Congress member who supported the measure and about $7,000 to the campaigns of Congress members who voted "no." The resolution was sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who has received more than $400,000 from oil and gas industries
in her eight years in office.
Sitting atop a list that is predominately Republican and top-heavy with Texans, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) leads the current Congress in political donations from oil and gas, having taken in $2,680,000 over the past decade. Others who have accepted more than a million dollars from energy interests include Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), and Sen. Jim Inhoffe (R-Okla.).
Go back further, however, and the list grows more politically balanced. In a list of politicians' all-time totals of donations from energy interests, nearly half are Democrats. No. 3 on the list is President Barack Obama, who racked up nearly $3 million in only seven years in the Senate -- a fact his critics frequently recall when his administration takes strong stands against large corporate interests.
Spending on lobbyists has also increased dramatically over the past decade, rising from around $150 million in 1998 to more than $400 million in 2008. In those 10 years, energy interests have spent $3 billion on 2,300 lobbyists in Washington.
Energy lobbyists have concentrated on swaying regulators. In 2009, 31 companies lobbied Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that oversees offshore oil and gas drilling -- three times as many as lobbied the agency five years earlier.