Democrats are accusing Republican Sen. Dean Heller of railing against speculation in the oil market on the campaign trail but voting in Congress to preserve it.
Many economists and oil analysts blame Wall Street speculators for a large part of the cost of gasoline these days. The Las Vegas Sun reported that the Nevada Republican recently sounded like he was agreeing with them and lining up on the side of consumers when asked about speculation at an event.
"If anybody here in this room wanted to trade a million barrels of oil, it would cost you," Heller reportedly said. "Now, why should we be allowed to make that transaction on Wall Street and not cost a penny? And I believe that manipulation of the market is what’s causing the spikes -- moving up and down -- of oil prices here in this country."
On Wednesday the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been focusing in on that remark, pointing to Heller's vote (among others) against measures that would allow federal regulators to crack down on speculation.
“Dean Heller is using election-year rhetoric to try [to] hide the fact that, in Washington, Heller votes to protect his Wall Street and big oil contributors who get rich driving up gas prices at the pump,” said Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
"Heller's votes allowing Wall Street to artificially raise prices at the pump is just the latest reminder that Heller prioritizes powerful special interests that fund his campaign instead of middle-class Nevadans," Canter said.
"This was a broad-based bill that didn't just go after oil speculation, it went after all commodities," Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith stated in an email about the senator's recent vote. "This could have had a detrimental impact on mining in Nevada which is a major job provider in the state."
"In addition, Dean Heller has a long history of independence on the issue of gas prices and price-gouging," she wrote. "In fact, he was one of only fifty Republicans to vote for an anti-price gouging bill while in the minority in 2008."
Chandler has told the Sun that Heller has voted against price gouging in the past.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Dean Heller's spokeswoman Chandler Smith.