While the BP oil geyser pumps millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama and members of Congress may have to answer for the millions in campaign contributions they’ve taken from the oil and gas giant over the years.
BP and its employees have given more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Donations come from a mix of employees and the company’s political action committees — $2.89 million flowed to campaigns from BP-related PACs and about $638,000 came from individuals.
On top of that, the oil giant has spent millions each year on lobbying — including $15.9 million last year alone — as it has tried to influence energy policy.
During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to financial disclosure records.
An Obama spokesman rejected the notion that the president took big oil money.
“President Obama didn’t accept a dime from corporate PACs or federal lobbyists during his presidential campaign,” spokesman Ben LaBolt said. “He raised $750 million from nearly four million Americans. And since he became president, he rolled back tax breaks and giveaways for the oil and gas industry, spearheaded a G20 agreement to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, and made the largest investment in American history in clean energy incentives.”
In Congress, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who last week cautioned that the incident should “not be used inappropriately” to halt Obama’s push for expansion of offshore drilling, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of BP’s largesse. Her comments created some blowback, with critics complaining that she is too blasé about the impact of the disaster, even though she was among the first lawmakers to call for a federal investigation into the spill.
As the top congressional recipient in the last cycle and one of the top BP cash recipients of the past two decades, Landrieu banked almost $17,000 from the oil giant in 2008 alone and has lined her war chest with more than $28,000 in BP cash overall.
“Campaign contributions, from energy companies or from environmental groups, have absolutely no impact on Sen. Landrieu’s policy agenda or her response to this unprecedented disaster in the Gulf,” said Landrieu spokesman Aaron Saunders. “The senator is proud of the broad coalition she’s built since her first day in the Senate to address the energy and environmental challenges in Louisiana and in the nation. This disaster only makes the effort to promote and save Louisiana’s coast all that more important.”
Several BP executives have given directly to Landrieu’s campaign, including current and previous U.S. operation Presidents Lamar McKay and Robert Malone. Other donors include Margaret Hudson, BP’s America vice president, and Benjamin Cannon, federal affairs director for the U.S. branch. Donations ranged from $1,000 to $2,300 during the past campaign cycle.
Environmentalists complain that Landrieu has played down the impact of oil spills.
“I mean, just the gallons are so minuscule compared to the benefits of U.S. strength and security, the benefits of job creation and energy security,” Landrieu said at a hearing last month on offshore drilling. “So while there are risks associated with everything, I think you understand that they are quite, quite minimal.”