In Aftermath Of Massive Oil Spill, Who In Washington Would Feel Beholden To Defend BP?

The ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico certainly will be one for the history books in terms of environmental impact. If BP comes under scrutiny for its role in the disaster, it appears destined also to become a textbook case in the power of corporate influence in Washington.

Coastal Louisiana appears destined for ecological catastrophe as a result of a massive oil slick coming ashore, caused by an April 20 explosion on an offshore oil rig leased by BP.

The world’s fourth-largest corporation, BP has long donated to U.S. elected officials, and spent millions to influence American policymaking.

Based in the United Kingdom and more than a century old, BP generated $246.1 billion in revenue in 2009, and reported earning $16.6 billion in profit that year. The company also has already been responsible for major oil disasters in recent years, including a March 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers and injured 170 more at its Texas City, Texas, refinery.

As for the current disaster, the Justice Department has announced that its attorneys are on the scene on the Gulf Coast to investigate the cause of the incident.

The amount that BP spent on Washington lobbying soared last year, to $16 million compared to $10.5 million in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Further, the energy titan gave more than $500,000 directly to U.S. political campaigns in 2008, up from $327,230 four years earlier, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

With BP having invested so much in Washington over the years, it may become instructive who in the capital, if anyone, defends the company should fingers start pointing its way.

Indeed, Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday promised to “vigorously enforce the laws” related to the spill. But just how vigorous the administration is in holding to account those responsible may be an issue since President Obama himself was the top recipient of BP-related campaign giving in 2008, the Center for Responsive Politics says in its blog. The firm and its affiliates gave the Obama campaign $71,000.

While BP smiled on Democrat Obama, the company has, for at least 20 years, contributed more to Republican candidates than to Democrats. The differential, however, has narrowed in recent years. Where the company’s political giving tilted greater than 70 percent toward the GOP during the 1990s, Republicans received 60 percent of BP political donations in 2008 — and the Republican advantage has shrunk even more to-date in the 2010 election cycle.

Through reporting as of April 25, BP has donated $108, 241 to candidates thus far in 2010. Of that, 57 percent has gone to GOP candidates and 43 percent to Democrats.

Although Obama was the biggest beneficiary of BP political spending in 2008, the president’s Republican rival that year, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, was second with $36,649.

Perhaps significantly in the context of the current crisis, Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat and perennial friend of the oil industry, followed McCain by collecting $16,200 from BP in 2008.

Both House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) collected BP checks two years ago — $5,000 and $4,000, respectively. Two years ago, Hillary Clinton was still a senator from New York, and BP gave her $6,700 for her campaign fund. Today Clinton is a secretary of state and a member of the Obama Cabinet, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Interestingly in the still-developing 2010 campaign, BP’s largest donation this year — $9,600 — has gone to Kentucky state Attorney General Jack Conway. Conway is one of the Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by retiring Blue Grass State Republican Jim Bunning.

Another key 2010 political gift has been the $7,000 that BP has given Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). First appointed to fill the vacancy caused by her father’s resignation in 2002, Murkowski this year is running for her second full term. Moreover, Murkowski serves as ranking Republican of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

BP so far this year has contributed just $1,000 to the Senate energy panel’s chairman, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), but Bingaman isn’t up for re-election until 2012.

Including previous years, however, BP has contributed $14,000 to Bingaman campaigns, the Center for Responsive Politics database says.

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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