Cross-posted from the Wonk Room.
The American Petroleum Institute (API), Big Oil’s chief lobbying organization, will start directly backing political candidates in the second quarter of this year. API, whose membership includes oil giants like Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, already spends tens of millions of dollars every year on lobbying, advertisements, and Astroturf campaigns to support the the oil industry agenda. As the Center for American Progress’s Dan Weiss wrote, API “wants to drill in fragile, sensitive places, keep government tax breaks, expand offshore drilling without reforms, and block global warming pollution reduction requirements.”
“This is adding one more tool to our toolkit,” Martin Durbin, API’s executive vice president for government affairs, told Bloomberg News. “At the end of the day, our mission is trying to influence the policy debate.” As Bloomberg pointed out, oil-supported political action committees like the Independent Petroleum Association of America overwhelmingly donate to Republican candidates.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, API spent $6.7 million on lobbying alone last year, after clearing $7 million in 2009. In 2010, API was the seventh most prolific spender in the oil and gas industry, following ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, Shell, Koch Industries, and BP.
API’s turn toward direct political donations is doubly problematic because, in addition to acting as the industry’s chief lobbyists, the institute runs technical committees that set standards for the oil industry. In its official report, the commission that investigated the BP oil spill found that API was too “compromised” to be setting industry standards. “Because they would make oil and gas industry operations potentially more costly, API regularly resists agency rulemakings that government regulators believe would make those operations safer, and API favors rulemaking that promotes industry autonomy from government oversight,” the commission found. And this was before API decided to begin directly supporting candidates!
In its proposed 2012 budget, the Obama administration suggested, once again, removing the billions in subsidies that taxpayers give oil companies every year. API has been at the forefront of the lobbying fight to preserve Big Oil’s subsidies, demonizing the removal of them as new “energy taxes,” even while admitting that cutting the subsidies and plowing the money back into clean energy technology would create “a lot more jobs.”