The Money Behind Yesterday's Oil Subsidies Vote

03/30/2012 News

Yesterday we reported that the Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act, sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), failed to overcome a Republican filibuster and came 9 votes short of the 60 needed.

In a 51-47 vote, the bill was voted down. It would have eliminated $24 billion in tax breaks from the five biggest oil companies (BP, Exxon, Shell, Chevron and ConocoPhillips) and apply those funds to extend renewable energy tax incentives and to reduce the US deficit.

Today, we learned how the vote was paid for. 

Put simply, Senators who voted in favor of ending big oil subsidies received $8,968,426 in campaign contributions from the industry. Senators who voted against repealing subsidies received a whopping $25,717,375.

The bill was supported by clean energy, environmental and consumer groups and opposed by guess who? Multinational oil & gas producers and refiners,  Republican/Conservative Senators (except for the two Maine senators who broke ranks), the American Petroleum Institute, Heritage Action for America, National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Taxpayers Union.

Three of the four Democrats who voted against the bill include the oil and gas industry among their top contributors: Ben Nelson (D-NE) $192,000, Mark Begich (D-AK) $145,000 and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) $424,000. 

Jim Inhofe (R-OK), known as the king of climate denial, gets his largest contributions from the oil and gas industry - $472,000.

"If all these subsidies to oil companies were better for consumers, why do gas prices continue to go up?" says Sen. Menendez. "From 2010 to 2011, Big Oil had a 75% increase in profits. Did they use that to produce more oil? No. Those five companies actually produced 4% less oil. They spent $38 billion repurchasing their own stock to enrich themselves, and $70 million more on campaign contributions and lobbying to protect their billions in subsidies."

"I think it's curious that some of the folks in Congress who are the first to belittle investments in new sources of energy are the ones fighting the hardest to keep these giveaways for big oil companies," says President Obama. "Instead of taxpayer giveaways to an industry that's never been more profitable, we should be using that money to double-down on investments in clean energy technologies that have never been more promising." 

"The vote again shows that a majority of the U.S. Senate supports repealing tax breaks that the oil industry doesn't need," says David Moulton, senior director of legislative affairs for The Wilderness Society. "Standing in the way of this overdue energy policy pivot is a very powerful oil industry and its minority of allies in the Senate who are intent on protecting Big Oil welfare at the expense of consumers and taxpayers. The measure failed only because arcane Senate rules allow a minority to filibuster and block a bill even when the majority is in favor of the bill."

MapLight, which tracks and analyzes political contributions, finds between July 1, 2005 and June 30, 2011:

High oil and gasoline prices in 2011 enabled the big five companies to rake in $137 billion in profits last year, and $1 trillion in profits from 2001-2011.

Learn about who's funding your congressperson at Maplight: