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Where Are My Tax Breaks?

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Oil and gas companies got an early Christmas present yesterday when the final energy bill passed by the Senate kept $14 billion in tax breaks in place for big oil companies. This bill was just hours after a different version failed, one that would have removed these tax breaks.

So what made so many senators change their opinions? Money. Those who voted against the stronger version have received an average of $109,000 from the oil and gas companies since 2004--more than double that of the money received by those voting in favor of the legislation, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics analyzed by Public Campaign.

Many environmental organizations said the final bill didn't go far enough, but big oil was pleased. The American Petroleum Institute put out a statement thanking the Senate for putting their interests first. The oil companies needed a break. After all, gasoline prices only jumped 9.3 percent in November and fuel oil jumped 14.2 percent--the biggest increase since February 2003. As these companies are making record earnings, we're left to pay the tab.

As I've written about numerous times, there is a solution to the pay-to-play political system: full public financing of elections, or Fair Elections. Fair Elections would put voters first in the political process, ahead of big campaign contributors.

The original bill, had it passed, would have been historic. It would have been a positive highlight to a week in which environmental leaders from around the world were being stymied by U.S. opposition in Bali. With Fair Elections, voters would be sure that legislation would pass or fail based on the needs of all voters and not just campaign donors.