The arguing between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over the inane gas-tax holiday is more telling for what is not said than whether Obama is elitist for snubbing it or whether Clinton is a pander bear for supporting it. Both are still cubs nursing in big oil's den.
When Exxon Mobil last week posted its second-highest quarterly profits ever, $10.9 billion, Clinton said, "This is truly Dick Cheney's wonderland. But on Main Street, middle class families are facing devastating choices every day between buying groceries and filling up their gas tanks . . . We need to set a new course for our long-term energy strategy and move away from oil."
Two days before Exxon's profits were announced, Obama said oil companies "are making billions and it's time we made them give back . . . what we're talking about now is a Washington con game, and I think the American people are smarter than Washington and will see right through it."
Unfortunately, it is easy to see through the posturing of Clinton and Obama. They need to do some gas rationing of their own.
Historically, political contributions from oil companies are owned by the Republicans. All top 20 recipients of cumulative contributions from Exxon Mobil since 1990 are Republicans with President Bush at the top, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. But with a Democrat having a real shot at the White House, Obama and Clinton reside in their own wonderland, railing against the oil companies while taking money from industry employees.
In the 2008 election cycle the second-biggest recipient of contributions from Exxon after the $39,730 for Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, is Obama at $23,550. Clinton is in fourth place at $15,700. Both are ahead of the $8,450 for John McCain, the virtual nominee of the Republican Party.
Then there's Chevron. The all-time leader in contributions from that company since 1990 is former California congressman Richard Pombo. Pombo was ousted from his House seat in 2006 in a fierce campaign by environmentalists enraged by his attempts to gut the Endangered Species Act. But guess who is now number three in money from Chevron in the 2008 cycle? Clinton, at $9,350. Obama is seventh, at $7,263. Again, both are ahead of McCain's $5,500.
How about British Petroleum? Its top-three all-time recipients in contributions since 1990 are Representative Don Young of Alaska, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, and Bush (uh, could that have anything to do with drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?). But look now who's doing the drilling. The number two recipient in the current cycle is Obama at $10,196, more than double what BP has given to Stevens.
Now, what Obama's and Clinton's handlers will be quick to say is that these few thousands of dollars are a pittance in the millions being raised by their campaigns, well below the threshold of influencing their political stances. Obama may say that his cash from Big Oil must be put in perspective with the fact that he is also the top recipient in the 2008 cycle of contributions from the alternative energy industry, $45,650.
But the symbolism of Clinton replacing Pombo at the top of the Chevron food chain, Obama replacing the Alaska congressional delegation at the top of BP's charts and Obama being number two in current Exxon cash is ominous. How far would Clinton really go with energy "solutions," and how much would Obama actually "change" the oil-to-policy pipeline in Washington?
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, McCain is still the overall leader in money from the oil and gas industry at $515,486. But Clinton and Obama are on their own slippery oil slopes, at $353,723 and, $266,097, respectively. The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania recently reported that Obama has also received nearly $10,000 from employees at Shell. Clinton can blabber about Cheney's wonderland. Obama can talk piously about Washington con games.
Until they announce they will reject any oil money, this is a Shell game.
Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.
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