WASHINGTON - Much scrutiny of the ongoing U.S. presidential race has focused on the personal fortunes amassed by President George W Bush and his challenger Senator John Kerry. But millions of dollars from other sources are also at play behind the scenes, including from major actors in the U.S. oil and gas industry.
Leading the way is privately-held Koch Industries, which has contributed more than half a million dollars in the 2004 election cycle, and just under 5..5 million dollars to election campaigns since 1989, 90 percent of that money going to members of Bush's Republican Party, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group here that tracks campaign contributions.
"Koch has enjoyed significant entrees into politics, specifically Republican administrations, over the years," said the Center's research director, Sheila Krumholz, in an interview with IPS.
According to a recent report by another Washington-based group, the Center for Public Integrity, the oil and gas industry has spent more than 440 million dollars since 1998 on campaign contributions and lobbying.
ExxonMobil was the industry's lobbying leader, spending 55 million dollars in Washington since 1998, adds the report, 'The Politics of Oil'.
Other big spenders included ChevronTexaco (32 million dollars), Marathon Oil (29 million), British oil giant BP (28 million), British/Dutch behemoth Royal Dutch/Shell Group (27 million), the American Petroleum Institute (20 million) and Occidental Petroleum (12 million), according to the report by the Center, which conducts investigative research on public policy issues.
Some of the more sensational names mentioned in the document are scandal-plagued Enron Corp, which spent 16 million dollars on campaigns and lobbying, and Vice President Dick Cheney's former employer Halliburton Corp (three million dollars), which is currently the subject of government investigations of its contract work in Iraq and alleged bribes paid in connection with a natural gas project in Nigeria.
"(The oil industry) is not particularly open, especially in relation to their political doings," project director at the Center for Public Integrity, Bob Williams, told IPS. "We wanted to take the most comprehensive look ever taken at the global oil business and its political influence," he added.
"We've taken people beyond the names they see at the gas station and showed them how the companies really operate."
The money spent by the industry in Washington since 1998 includes more than 67 million dollars in campaign contributions in federal elections, about one-fifth the amount that the companies spent on lobbying, according to the report.
The Center also found that oil and gas companies overwhelmingly favored Republicans over Democrats, calculating that more than 73 percent of their political spending has gone to Republican candidates and organizations.
Total contributions from oil and gas companies to political parties has steadily risen, from 20.6 million dollars in 1992 to 34.2 million dollars in 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Campaign contributions may be lower in the 2004 cycle as a result of recently imposed restrictions on "soft money" contributions (from corporations, unions and more than 1,000 dollars from an individual to a candidate in a federal election) to political campaigns.
The ratio of contributions from the industry to Republicans and Democrats also reveals a consistent pattern of change, says 'The Politics of Oil'.
In 1992, 34 percent of spending went to Democrats and 66 percent to Republicans. But in 2000 that had shifted to 20 percent of contributions to Democrats and 80 percent to Republicans.
In the incomplete 2004 cycle, Democrats have received 18 percent of contributions from the oil and gas industry and Republicans 82 percent, added the report.
It is important to note that in 1994 the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years, giving them control over key committees having jurisdiction over the oil and gas industry.
The Center's report charges that the National Petroleum Council (NPC), a little-known federally chartered but privately funded group that advises the secretary of energy, has been an "underground pipeline" of political influence for the oil and gas industry for years.
Ten NPC members were Bush Pioneers (a person who raises at least 100,000 dollars for the Bush campaign) and two were Rangers (raising at least 200,000 dollars) during the 2000 presidential election.
At the time, one NPC member was then Halliburton Chief Executive Officer Dick Cheney, who left the council after being chosen as the Republican vice-presidential nominee in August 2000.
According to the report, one of the major initiatives the NPC got the Energy Department to consider was a wide-ranging exemption for the energy industry from public disclosure, which has not yet been adopted. Another helped open up federal lands for oil and gas use in the Rocky Mountains, including Cheney's home state of Wyoming, adds the report.
"The average citizen has concerns that are more important to them than the amount of money spent by an oil and gas company on lobbying, but what the oil and gas industry is doing on Capitol Hill could have a dramatic effect on the lives of everyday citizens," said Center for Public Integrity Communications Director Steven Weiss, in an interview.
Koch (pronounced "coke") Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the United States, has also financed a network of conservative non-profit organizations. designed to influence policy debate in this country. All of the groups -- the Cato Institute, the Reason Foundation, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Federalist Society -- advocate in Washington for deregulation and less government, says the report.
"There are many multi-billion-dollar corporations (like Koch) developing policies and lobbying politicians that no one has ever heard of," according to Williams.
Despite repeated calls, Koch did not respond to IPS requests for an interview.
Bush has received the most campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry of any politician since 1998 (1.7 million dollars) says the Center's report. Contributors included Enron, Halliburton and Koch.
That total is more than three times the amount given to the next largest recipient of the industry's campaign contributions.
House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, and fellow Texan, Joe Barton, collected 574,000 dollars. Another Texas Republican, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, took in just under 500,000 dollars.
Only three democrats are on the report's top 20 list of recipients (Senator Mary Landrieu, Sen John Breaux and House Representative Christopher John, all of Louisiana).
The two national political parties each took in more than any individual candidate, national Republican committees getting 24 million dollars and Democrats just under eight million dollars.
While most of the big oil and gas companies operate their own lobbying offices in Washington, the industry also contracted out a substantial amount of its work to some of the capital's largest and most influential lobbying firms, says the report.
Topping that list was Bracewell & Patterson, which received more than 4.8 million dollars in lobbying work from the industry since 1998.
Among the partners at Bracewell & Patterson is Marc Racicot, the former Montana governor and chairman of the Bush-Cheney 2004 election campaign. Edward Krenik, former head of congressional and intergovernmental relations at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a lobbyist with the firm.
© Copyright 2004 IPS - Inter Press Service