Money and Democracy

Published — August 11, 2010 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Chamber of Commerce, other biz lobbies drill big oil for new cash gusher


What do the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), and the new American Crossroads group have in common this summer?

All are seeking big bucks from the deep-pocketed but embattled oil industry as it faces higher taxes and increased regulations in the aftermath of the BP oil disaster.

Here’s the impeccable logic. “Everybody knows that the oil and gas industry has a big target on its back resulting from the Gulf oil spill and higher prices of a few years ago,” one veteran oil lobbyist told the Center for Public Integrity. “The industry is a ‘go-to’ place for any organization that can argue it can help create an easier climate for oil companies.”

To be sure, the Chamber and BIPAC have long looked to the oil patch as a major stream of funding for their electoral campaigns. But with a high stakes election on the horizon, both groups, as well as others, are scrambling to raise millions of new dollars to help elect pro-business candidates, leaving oil executives deluged with funding requests.

The Chamber is seeking extra funding – beyond annual dues that many oil companies pay as members – from a number of oil giants and smaller industry players on two tracks. Track One: some oil firms are weighing bigger contributions to the Chamber to help the business behemoth expand its regulatory advocacy programs.

“Companies among themselves are talking about putting more resources into the Chamber,” says a top inside lobbyist for a major oil company. When “you face risks that strike at the core of an industry’s existence it’s not unusual for companies to approach the Chamber,” he adds, because it boasts a “larger membership and a larger reach,” than the American Petroleum Institute, the industry trade group.

Track Two: other oil firms are being beseeched for more funds to help the Chamber reach its goal of spending a whopping $75 million on the November election – more than double what it spent in 2008. The Chamber electoral blitz will include issue ads to help mostly Republican, pro-business candidates in dozens of competitive Senate and House races.

Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Devon courted

Two lobbyists familiar with the Chamber’s frenzied fundraising say that some bigger oil firms are being asked to write million-dollar checks, while a number of smaller ones are being asked to donate six-figure sums. Among the oil companies that the Chamber’s been pitching: Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Exxon Mobil Corp., and Devon Energy Corp., according to oil lobbyists.

“We clearly have solicited oil companies as well as a host of others (in other sectors) for an expanded regulatory advocacy effort and our electoral campaigns,” Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s top lobbyist, told the Center.

Historically, the Chamber’s president and primo fundraiser Tom Donohue has had strong links to several oil giants. A few years ago, Exxon Mobil kicked in a seven-figure check for a Chamber-led effort aimed in part at helping oil companies fend off some tax threats on the Hill, say industry lobbyists

Just how many million-dollar checks oil giants will fork over this year is unknown, but two industry sources note that Donohue has asked oil executives to open their wallets very, very wide. “Donohue always shoots high,” quips one source.

Other groups have also set their sights higher this year.

BIPAC has ties to energy industry

BIPAC is trying to raise $6 million this year — almost triple what it did last election cycle, says Greg Casey, the group’s president. Those funds will go for its “prosperity project,” which is basically a computerized educational data base detailing the voting records of many candidates. These data bases are used by many of BIPAC’s 400 member companies to provide employees information about which candidates’ have the most pro business records.

The oil and gas industry has been a major patron of BIPAC for several election cycles. Oil lobbyists say the American Petroleum Institute has long been a top donor, giving about $500,000 per election cycle. Other big names in the oil patch, including Exxon Mobil and Halliburton Co., have in recent years also contributed several hefty six-figure checks.

BIPAC’s prosperity project has “deep roots within the oil and gas industry,” explains a veteran oil lobbyist familiar with the group’s funding. The lobbyist adds that he’d be “shocked” if BIPAC wasn’t going back to long time donors for more dough this year. Casey acknowledges that oil and gas companies have long been key sources of funding for BIPAC but stresses that the group has made “significant progress” in enticing new donors from other sectors.

American Crossroads

Meanwhile, American Crossroads, a so-called 527 nonprofit group that’s looking to raise upwards of $50 million this year to help dozens of GOP candidates, has pried million-dollar checks out of two Texas oil tycoons with some help from advisers Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie. The two GOP uber-consultants made at least one joint fundraising trip to Texas earlier this year that yielded lucrative dividends.

In a report filed with the IRS late last month, American Crossroads disclosed that two Texas billionaires with sizable oil investments, Trevor Rees-Jones and Robert Rowling, had each donated $1 million to the group.

Rowling, who is worth a cool $4.4 billion according to Forbes, got a head start courtesy of his father’s founding of Tana Oil & Gas Corp. in 1980. Rees-Jones who is president of Chief Oil and Gas LLC, boasts a fortune of about $1.5 billion, Forbes says.

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