Oil and gas lobbying is nothing new. But a recent news analysis revealed just how much money U.S. lawmakers are receiving from oil and gas companies in return for lenient climate policy (or even environmental rollbacks).
Specifically, the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that oil and gas companies contributed more than $84 million towards congressional campaigns in 2018 alone.
And even though there’s no explicit quid pro quo between lobbyists (and the clients they represent) and these politicians, researchers from Yale and the University of Cambridge found a notable correlation between anti-environment votes and financial contributions.
Researchers also found a link between legislators’ League of Conservation (LCV) score and outside contributions. After a legislator’s LCV score dipped, an increase in campaign funding from the oil and gas industry followed.
Specifically, a $1,700 donation from these companies usually followed after a 10% drop in LCV score. What does this mean? And who’s involved in enabling this cycle where the money goes in and questionable climate policy comes out?
How Oil and Gas Lobbying Relationships Work
Several prominent politicians have popularized the conversation around doubling down on climate change. As a result, some of the largest oil and gas companies are in direct jeopardy. Should some of these policies they’re talking about pass, we could be looking at billions of dollars in losses for some of these companies.
There’s no question these companies need powerful politicians to be in their corner. Intuitively, we think that oil and gas companies are buying influence when they invest big bucks into politicians’ campaigns. But how exactly does this relationship work?
Well, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, there was little to no statistical relationship between campaign contributions in an election circle and the computed LCV scores in the cycle immediately after.
The catch though is that even though oil and gas companies aren’t seeing the results immediately, we’re still seeing an exchange of value.
Specifically, Matthew Goldberg, a postdoctoral associate with Yale’s Program on Climate Communication, explains: “Legislators proved that they’re willing to vote against the environment consistently and then they’re rewarded later.”
“I suppose this is more of an advantage for oil and gas companies because they need to ensure that people are going to vote in their interest,” he added.
Goldberg, who co-authored the study, also mentions that this process should motivate voters to “get the right people in office.”
There’s definite value associated with ensuring that politicians aren’t as malleable in terms of having money influencing their critical decision-making power.
Which Politicians Accept the Most Money From the Oil and Gas Industry?
Researchers analyzed data spanning over three decades, from 1990 to 2018. In 1990, researchers found Republicans received 64% of the oil and gas lobbying money. Then, in 2018, that percentage rose to 88%.
Of the top twenty recipients, there are several high profile names present from the 2018-2019 election cycle. Senator John Cornyn and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy top the list, with $482,650 and $368,840 in contributions respectively. Texas is the nation’s leader in oil and natural gas production. So Cornyn’s first rank doesn’t come as a surprise.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, President Donald Trump, and former Presidential Candidate Beto O’Rourke didn’t trail too far behind.
The majority of corporate lobbyists in the oil and gas industry hail from big names like the Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, and Chevron Corp. Annual donations range from $9 to $11 million.
Citizens United’s 5-4 Decision Contributed to Oil and Gas Lobbying to Double in Scale
Back in 2010, this rather contentious topic was taken to court. In the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court ruled to reverse decade-old financial restrictions.
Subsequently, the government gave corporations, special interest groups, and unions the right to contribute unlimited funds for election groups.
To this day, this controversial decision (voted 5-4) sparks some heated debate. The argument is that it grants people in power to gain even more power and sway important political decisions.
Since Citizens United, researchers found oil and gas lobbying more than doubled, from $35 million to $84 million.
When it comes to the topic of lobbying, it becomes a battle between free speech and taking the money out of politics. Last year in March, a sweeping anti-corruption bill, HR1, passed the House.
The For the People Act is Going — Campaign Finance Transparency Not Improving
The For The People Act tackles gerrymandering, transparency, and ethics in campaign finance, voting rights, and more. Currently, the bill is on the Senate legislative calendar. It has remained there since March.
Before it passed the House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters the bill was “terrible”. He then said it would “not get any floor time in the Senate.”