BOSTON -- Democrats are opening up a new line of attack on U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, casting the Massachusetts Republican as a high-powered friend of "Big Oil" at a time of rising gasoline prices.
Brown's chief Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren, is pointing to Brown's vote Thursday against a Democratic measure that would have ended $4 billion in tax subsidies to oil companies.
Democrats note that the industry has pumped nearly $200,000 into Brown's campaign. The industry's main lobbying group also ran ads recently urging voters to ask Brown to oppose measures the industry said would raise taxes on energy producers.
Brown defended his vote, saying ending subsidies won't bring down gas prices. He said the bill was designed to help Democrats craft political ads instead of addressing the nation's energy woes.
"If you want to have a conversation about our tax code and subsidies that entities are getting, sure let's have that, but let's have that as part of an overall reform and review policy, not just pitting up things for commercials in November," Brown said Friday after touring a fire station in Boston.
Brown also said he's voted against ethanol subsidies and supports the Keystone XL pipeline, which he said could bring down gas prices.
The 1,700-mile Canada-Texas project became a political flashpoint late last year when Republicans wrote a provision forcing President Barack Obama to make a decision, and environmental groups waged a campaign to kill the project. In January, Obama delayed it, saying the deadline didn't leave enough time for review.
"I'm not going to be voting to raise people's gasoline taxes when we should be talking about the ability to build the Keystone pipeline," Brown said.
Warren, a consumer advocate and Harvard University professor, opposes the project.
"Scott Brown is talking about Keystone because he just gave billions of tax dollars in subsidies and special breaks to the big oil companies ... and he's hoping consumers hammered by gas prices didn't notice," said Warren spokeswoman Alethea Harney.
The focus on oil subsidies follows several weeks where Brown has been able to tout legislative victories and voice his support for the renewal of a bill aimed at curbing domestic violence.
Last week, the Senate gave final passage to a bill that would ban members of Congress, the president and thousands of other federal workers from profiting from nonpublic information learned on the job. Brown was one of the bill's main sponsors.
The Senate last week also passed legislation to help startup companies raise capital by reducing federal regulations.
This bill included a provision backed by Brown designed to encourage the practice of "crowdfunding," in which the Internet is used to raise capital from a large number of smaller investors.
Navin Nayak of the League of Conservation Voters, which supports candidates it considers "pro-environment," said while Brown "may wear a barn jacket to pretend like he's a man of the people," his vote to protect oil subsidies shows he's "just another slick politician."
The group's criticism isn't new. Last year, it launched television ads faulting Brown for voting "repeatedly against protecting our environment and public health."
Those ads – and ads that targeted Warren – prompted the candidates to sign a pledge designed to discourage third-party political ads.
Under the pledge, the candidate who benefits from an ad must write a check for half the cost of the ad campaign to a charity named by the other candidate.
On Thursday, Brown announced he would write a $34,545 check after the American Petroleum Institute ran radio and print ads.
Brown said the $34,545 is half the amount of money spent on radio ads from March 24 to March 27. He said the deal only applied to radio, TV and online advertising.
Democrats said the ads are further proof of oil industry support for Brown. They also point to the $198,660 Brown has received in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry, according the Center for Responsive Politics.
Brown brushed off the criticism.
"I raise money just like every other member of the Senate and Congress, including Professor Warren, so with all due respect that falls on deaf ears," he said Friday.
Brown called the decision to reject the oil subsidy bill "bipartisan," noting that several Democratic senators sided with Republicans.
Two Republican senators also sided with Democrats, including Olympia Snowe of Maine, who endorsed Brown at a Monday campaign event designed to highlight Brown's bipartisanship and support among women.
Brown and Warren are locked in tight race which could end up being the most expensive in state history.