The BP Money Trail

BP's massive oil spill is still creeping toward the coastline as a federal investigation looms into its causes and consequences. But what is clear, according to (the Web site for the Center for Responsive Politics), is that BP's lobbying arm has extended deep into Washington, D.C., with the company enjoying close ties with lawmakers and a record of big spending, especially on one politician: Barack Obama.

"If BP faces heavy federal scrutiny, it's well positioned to fight back," writes OpenSecrets blogger Cassandra LaRussa. "The London-based company has consistently spent top dollar to influence legislative and regulatory activity in Washington, D.C., the Center for Responsive Politics finds."

The center found that during the 2008 election cycle, individuals and PACs associated with BP spent half a million dollars on political candidates. Forty percent of those donations went to Democrats, and the biggest individual recipient, Obama, received $71,000. In 2009 the company spent $16 million to influence lawmakers on Capitol Hill, according to a chart detailed on the Web site. Last year the most active environmental lobbyist, the Nature Conservancy, spent a paltry $2.2 million in comparison.

With $3.53 million already spent this year on lobbying, BP ranks second only to ConocoPhillips in its lobbying expenditures. "Last year, BP was active lobbying on the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009, which allows increased oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico, in areas closer to shore than current law allows," writes LaRussa. That bill also calls for further research and inventory of oil and gas reserves in the outer continental shelf of the U.S.

Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has called for a full investigation. According to the center, "five of the all-time top 10 recipients of BP money in the House of Representatives sit on the House Energy Committee: John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), Joe Barton (R-Texas), Ralph M. Hall (R-Texas), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and Fred Upton (R-Mich.). All have received upward of $13,000 from BP-related individuals and political action committees during the past two decades. Dingell, the second most favored recipient of BP money in the House, has received $31,000."

BP may be hedging its bets with area fishermen as well. According to Yahoo News, "the company, which owns the destroyed gulf oil rig that is pumping millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, has reportedly been pushing commercial fishermen pitching in with relief efforts to sign settlement agreements capping any claims against the oil giant at $5,000, and reining in future legal action arising from the spill." According to the Mobile Press-Register, Alabama Attorney General Troy King ordered BP to stop issuing the contracts to fishermen and urged the fishermen to "proceed with caution." Sound advice.