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Under the Influence

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The corporate fat cats sitting around the board rooms of Big Oil's largest companies are likely having a good laugh this summer. Not only is the oil industry continuing to reap billions in profits amidst the nation's worst environmental disaster, but the Senate's efforts to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation before the August recess fell victim to Big Oil's unprecedented misinformation and smear campaign.

That their efforts have been successful -- for now -- is highly disappointing and disheartening, but hardly a surprise. Energy interests have fought meaningful energy reform for decades in order to maintain America's addiction to fossil fuels and to keep their corporate profits flowing.

But a new report from Common Cause reveals the extent to which Big Oil, Dirty Coal and other energy interests have spent truly vast sums of money to influence the legislative and political process. In just the last decade, according to the campaign finance and lobbying disclosure reports compiled by Common Cause, energy interests have spent nearly $3 billion electing and lobbying federal officials and candidates.

Data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics shows that energy interests, including oil and gas companies, electric utilities, mining companies and waste management firms, have contributed more than $337 million to federal candidates and party organizations since 2000. Among current members of congress, the top five recipients of oil and gas companies have all received contributions that run into seven-figures, including former Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), BP apologist Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and notorious climate denier Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).

And the industry's lobbying figures are even more staggering. From the Common Cause report:

During the first quarter of 2010, the energy industry spent more than $3.2 million on lobbying for each day that Congress was in session. That's more than $244,000 per member through the quarter... Since 2000, energy companies have invested nearly $2.6 billion to lobby Congress and the executive branch. The industry's annual tab for lobbying increased by 159 percent during the decade, as it won passage during 2005 of an energy bill giving $14.5 billion in tax breaks to energy companies, and during 2008 persuaded Congress and then-President George W. Bush to lift a 27-year embargo on offshore oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic.

Going forward, it is clear that climate advocates have our work cut out for us. Fortunately, we have on our side both the sound science of climate change and the support of the majority of the public.

But as we head into this year's critical midterm elections, we must recognize that while we may not be able to outspend Big Oil, we can most certainly out-organize them. By tapping the vast depth of grassroots supporters who are willing to knock on doors, make phone calls and make their voices heard, we can ensure that voters know they have a stark choice this November: they can vote for lawmakers paid for and influenced by Big Oil or they can vote for champions who will fight for a clean energy future.

That is the choice the country faces on Election Day.

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