Fossil Fuel Influence Surrounds Senators as Ex-Staffers Turn Lobbyists

Sunlight Foundation Mapped the Web Spun Around Sen. Blanche Lincoln


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In the launch yesterday of their Earth Day Revolution for climate action, the Sierra Club and more than 40 other groups talked about the need for “Congress to finally push aside the obstruction of the polluter lobby.”

The Sunlight Foundation shed some light this week on that anti-climate action lobby and just how tightly it is woven into the fabric of Capitol Hill.

The foundation used Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln as an example. She was one of three Senate Democrats to join Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) effort to block the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Lincoln, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, also opposes cap-and-trade legislation and even touts that opposition in her campaign ads.

The Sunlight Foundation took a look at lobbyists with personal ties to the congresswoman and found that at least six of Lincoln’s former staff members now lobby for interest groups with a stake in climate regulations, including oil and gas trade groups.

One former aide who was once described as Lincoln’s “alter ego”, Kelly Bingel, now lobbies for the American Petroleum Institute, Koch Industries, Edison Electric Institute and the Business Roundtable. Another former aide, Charles Barnett, lobbies for NRG Energy and El Paso Corp. Another, Benjamin Noble, lobbies for Southern Co. (See the full map of lobbying connections at the Sunlight Foundation Web site).

The number of Washington lobbyists working on the climate issue has been climbing since President Obama was elected and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) began pushing for comprehensive climate legislation.

In early 2009, the Center for Public Integrity analyzed lobbying disclosure forms and determined that more than 770 companies and interest groups had hired about 2,340 lobbyists to sway Congress in their favor. It was a number that had jumped more than 300 percent in five years. By the end of the year, the center counted about 2,780 lobbyists on the issue in Washington — five for every member of Congress. It notes:

“Although amounts spent on lobbying by issue are not disclosed, if the groups involved spent just 10 percent of their lobbying budgets on climate, they shelled out $30.5 million in the third quarter.”

Lobbyists are only part of the equation when adding up the fossil fuel industries’ influence in Washington, of course.

When it comes to campaign contributions this election cycle, Lincoln and Murkowski also lead the list of the recipients of campaign cash connected to the energy and natural resources industries, a group led by oil companies and utilities.

The Top 10 congressional recipients of contributions related to the energy and natural resources industries so far in the 2010 election cycle, according to federal fillings compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, are:

    Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — $420,722
    Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) — $417,296
    Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) — $339,733
    Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) — $290,293
    Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) — $280,750
    Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) — $248,780
    Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) — $237,899
    Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — $233,650
    Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) — $230,399
    Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) — $226,074

Despite that money and her embrace of Republican energy positions, Lincoln faces a tough re-election campaign this year. The latest Rasmussen poll shows her trailing the strongest Republican candidate in the race, U.S. Rep. John Boozman, 48 percent to 39 percent. Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, a progressive Democrat, jumped into the race last week, as well.

Another factor will also be in play this election year that could give the fossil fuel industries more leverage over Congress members: corporate spending on issue ads. The Supreme Court threw open the gates in January when it threw out part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that prevented corporate and union spending on campaign ads in the final weeks before an election.


See also:

The Climate Lobby from Soup to Nuts

Climate Advocates on the Defensive as Congress Returns

40-Plus Groups Launch Earth Day Revolution for Climate Action

(Infographic: Sunlight Foundation)