On eve of climate debate, energy industry opens wallet
- Dale Eisman
Statement of Bob Edgar, President of Common Cause, on energy industry influence on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce
As the House Committee on Energy and Commerce begins debate soon on a draft energy bill, an immediate and intense battle over whether this bill can pass in Congress is likely. Energy and climate change issues are high on the minds of the American people and were debated aggressively during the 2008 elections. The public demands action and deserves it.
The energy industry has already been active, though, and the American people similarly deserve to see how the industry – whose profits and future depend on decisions made in Congress, particularly the Energy and Commerce committee – has exerted tremendous influence over this debate already through targeted campaign contributions and massive lobbying expenditures.
A Common Cause analysis revealed that major energy interests contributed more than twice as much to Energy and Commerce committee members’ campaigns, on average, than to other members of Congress. Committee members received an average of $107,230 in campaign cash from the energy sector in the last election, while their non-committee counterparts collected an average of $46,539, a difference of over 130 percent.
The largest player in the energy sector, electric utilities like Southern Company and Duke Energy, had the most pronounced targeting of its campaign contributions. The average Energy and Commerce committee member received $49,495 from electric utility interests alone in the 2008 cycle, while a non-committee member received an average of $18,579, a difference of over 160 percent.
It’s an old adage that money follows power in Washington, but that refrain takes on new meaning – and potentially dangerous consequences – when the wealthy special interests are clearly poised to exert enormous influence over a decision as crucial as how to tackle energy independence, green jobs, and a warming planet.
In addition to the access-buying campaign contributions targeted directly at committee members, the energy industry maintains one of Washington’s largest and best-funded lobbying initiatives. As the Center for Public Integrity recently revealed, Washington has four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress. Energy interests have already spent over $100 million on lobbying in 2009 alone, on the heels of a nearly $400 million lobbying effort in 2008. They leave no doubt that their voices will be heard – and loudly – both in the corridors of Congress and on the campaign trails of our elected officials.
Members of Congress, particularly those on the Energy & Commerce committee, have already accepted the campaign contributions – there’s no going back. The question, and indeed the gnawing doubt, in the minds of the American people over whether our elected officials are acting in the public interest or in the energy industry’s interest during this important debate is a serious one. The oil, gas, coal, and utility companies have made it clear that they are working to win influence with the most important decision makers. This buying of undue influence in Washington not only undermines public confidence, but may well stall progress on an issue of critical importance to the economy, environment, and national security.