Weeks after the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began, the fundraising arm for Senate Democrats circulated a petition to hold BP “accountable” while accusing Republicans of making excuses for “bad environmental actors.”
The petition noted that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) paid for the message, but didn’t mention that the DSCC’s own source of cash includes tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions raised earlier this year by a BP-hired lobbyist.
Tony Podesta, whose firm has earned $700,000 in lobbying fees from BP America Inc. since 2008, has raised at least $50,000 for the DSCC so far this year, according to Senate lobbying records and federal election filings.
The relationship between Mr. Podesta and the oil giant underscores the significant political muscle BP still has on Capitol Hill with both political parties, despite the outcries from lawmakers and the White House for a full investigation of the oil company’s role in the spill and its response.
“BP is one of the strongest lobbying and political forces in Washington, D.C.,” said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. “They’ve consistently spent millions of dollars every year on federal lobbying and, in the most recent years, they’ve increased the output to new heights.”
Mr. Podesta’s firm isn’t BP’s only lobbying powerhouse.
The oil company also enlists the services of the Duberstein Group, headed by Kenneth Duberstein, who was an aide to President Reagan, and Michael Berman, who was an aide to Vice President Walter F. Mondale. The firm hosted a fundraiser for California U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina in April, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.
It’s unclear whether Mr. Podesta’s lobbying on behalf of BP will affect his fundraising for the DSCC, even as the DSCC criticizes Republican lawmakers over ties to the oil giant. The DSCC, for instance, has railed against Sen. Dan Coats, Indiana Republican, saying recently that “big time” clients of the law firm where he has worked include BP.
“We have not taken money from BP this election cycle,” Deirdre Murphy, a spokeswoman for the DSCC, said when asked about Mr. Podesta’s fundraising and lobbying. Officials did not address questions about whether they would continue collecting contributions raised by Mr. Podesta while he lobbies for the oil company.
Mr. Podesta was listed as a host for 11 fundraisers for various members of Congress over the past year, according to the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks House and Senate fundraising activities. His firm declined to comment.
The ranks of BP lobbyists include several former government employees, including two former aides to Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, former Rep. Jim Turner, Texas Democrat and a former aide to the Energy and Commerce Committee, and more than a dozen others who previously worked in Congress, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
In addition, the company spent more than $3.5 million from January through March for the work of its own in-house lobbyists, according to Senate lobbying records.
According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, BP spent a “massive” $16 million on lobbyists to influence federal legislation last year, ranking it second behind Conoco Phillips among oil and gas companies.
In addition, BP’s political action committee and employees and others associated with the company spent a half-million dollars in campaign donations to federal candidates during the 2008 election cycle, with about 40 percent going to Democrats and $71,000 to President Obama, according to the center.
Among Senate and House candidates during the 2008 election cycle, Mrs. Landrieu received the most money from individuals and employees associated with BP with nearly $17,000 in contributions.
Weeks after the spill, a Landrieu spokesman said there were no plans to return the donations in response to an inquiry from the Center for Responsive Politics.
“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,” the spokesman, Aaron Saunders, told the Center for Responsive Politics.
The oil company’s employees and political action committee historically have given more political donations to Republicans as compared with Democrats, though the gap has narrowed in recent years.
Mr. Levinthal said BP-tied contributions ran by a 3-to-1 ratio in favor of Republicans about a decade ago but that Republicans have received 56 percent compared with 43 percent to Democrats this election cycle.