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Bill DiBenedetto headshot

Report: Energy Industry Spent $721 Million on Midterm Elections


If there’s one number that says all you need to know about the influence of the energy industry on the nation’s political discourse and direction, it’s $721 million.

A ThinkProgress report last week on the 2014 midterm election cycle found that after adding up direct contributions to individuals and political groups, including spending on TV ads and lobbying, the energy industry spent more than $721 million, citing an analysis from the Center for American Progress.

Not to put too fine a point on it: That huge amount of campaign spending buys a huge amount of influence in Congress. It helped elect fossil fuel-friendly candidates who will set the anti-environment agenda of the next Congress, which will be controlled by Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

In further proof that money always talks, the Center for American Progress noted that benefits for the fossil fuel industry started flowing even before the new Congressional session: “A legislative rider that was quietly attached to a major defense funding bill earlier this month marked a watershed change in the political fortunes of the coal, oil and gas industries and their return to power in Washington, D.C. The rider — which turns the Bull Mountains in Montana over to a Koch-connected, Houston-based company to be strip-mined for coal — is the fossil-fuel industry’s first major payoff from a three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar investment to secure Republican control of Congress and to set the stage for a pro-coal, pro-drilling and anti-environment agenda in the new year.”

The 2014 midterms saw a wave of Republican candidates elected and re-elected to federal office, and according to ThinkProgress the new bosses will make the environment “the first casualty of the 114th Congress.”

The American Progress analysis — conducted with data from the Center for Responsive Politics and Kantar Media Intelligence — found that the energy industry as a whole gave $84 million to candidates, political parties and political action committees (PACs), spent $163 million on television ads, and paid nearly $500 million to Washington lobbyists in the two years leading up to the elections.

Environmental organizations also spent some big money during the 2014 midterm elections. However, the money was spent differently, and amounted to a fraction of the energy industry’s involvement.

Data from the Center for Responsive Politics revealed that environmental groups spent about $43 million on lobbying, while individual candidates and PACs received a combined $11.7 million since 2012. Unregulated “soft money” contributions made up the bulk of donations, with those groups receiving a combined $87 million from environmentalists.

In 2014, the oil and gas industry represented the fifth-largest lobbying interest in Washington. Electric utilities were the sixth-largest. The environmental advocacy industry did not crack the top 20 list. The number of environmental lobbyists’ clients also lags far behind the number of energy industry lobbying clients.

And then there are the billionaires: The anti-renewable energy Koch Brothers were estimated to have spent anywhere from $100 million to $300 million on the 2014 midterms through their various organizations, while environmentalist, philanthropist (and Center for American Progress board member) Tom Steyer is estimated to have spent about $74 million of his own money.

There’s nothing much new about the influence of oil, gas and coal money on America’s energy agenda, and while there is some encouragement perhaps from the increasing money coming from the green movement, the huge disparities in campaign spending and influence is both dispiriting and alarming. While the clock continues to tick frustratingly on climate change, the next two years in Congress promise to be even more frustrating.

It’s the best Congress pollution money can buy.

Image credit: Our Modern Dilemma by Andrew Hart via Flickr cc

Bill DiBenedetto headshotBill DiBenedetto

Writer, editor, reader and generally good (okay mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by.

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