Oil Change International

Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels

Fossil Fuel Funding to Congress: Industry influence in the U.S.

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For information on how much YOUR Representatives, and the current Congress are taking from the fossil fuel industry, be sure to visit DirtyEnergyMoney.com

What if you were in Vegas, and a friend told you there was a slot machine in the corner that was giving out $59 for every $1 that was put in?  You’d think the machine was broken, and that it was rigged.

What if an investment advisor told you that he could get you $59 back for every $1 you gave him?  That’s a 5800% rate of return.  Even Bernie Madoff only promised 10.5%.  Obviously a scam, right?

Clearly this is a scam, but if you’re the oil, gas and coal industry, it’s legal and business as usual in Washington. For every $1 the industry spends on campaign contributions and lobbying in DC, it gets back $59 in subsidies.

Here’s how it works:

Amount the fossil fuel industry spent during the 111th Congress (2009 & 2010) on contributions to Congress’ campaigns: $25,794,747

Oil and Gas lobbying total 2009:  $175,454,820

Oil and Gas lobbying total 2010 : $146,032,543

TOTAL amount spent by Big Fossil in 111th Congress: $347,282,110 ($347 million and change)

2009 amount given to fossils in federal subsidies: $8,910,440,000 ($8.9 billion)

2010 amount given to fossils in federal subsidies: $11,578,900,000 ($11.5 billion)

TOTAL amount given to fossils during 111th Congress: $20,489,340,000

(Source for subsidies is the international government funded Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – OECD.  Original available here and broken out by US Federal totals here.  More details on fossil fuel subsidies available here.)

Divide total subsidies by total money spent by the industry and you get 59.

$1 in.  $59 out.  That’s a 5800% return on political investment.  Not bad.

Measuring Influence

Influence is a tricky thing to measure.  It is obvious to anyone that pays attention to US politics that the oil and gas industry is one of the most influential industries on Capitol Hill.  But quantifying that influence is not always straightforward.

At Oil Change International, we believe that the influence of the fossil fuel industry is the major barrier to a clean energy transition.  We quantify that influence by tracking the campaign contributions that the industry makes to our elected representatives, and by looking at the amount the industry spends on lobbying.

These measures leave out at least two major ways that the industry wields its influence: advertising and unregulated SuperPac spending.  Because there is limited transparency on these measures we do not regularly track them.  Nonetheless, we find that tracking campaign contributions is a reliable indicator of whether or not a particular Representative will vote to support the fossil fuel industry or a clean energy future.

Finally, it is important to note that influence can often be much more subtle and less easily quantified.  The well documented “revolving door” between the industry and government regulatory agencies is a very significant factor in setting policies that affect the industry.