As Big Oil comes under attack for high gas prices, “price gouging”, record profits and huge pay-outs to executives, it is spending millions on advertising to win over a skeptical public. They have also increased their lobbying efforts in Washington to reassure an increasingly hostile Congress.

The American Petroleum Institute is in the middle of a $30 million advertising campaign, the trade association’s first in three decades. The five largest oil companies in the U.S. — BP, Exxon, Shell, Conoco Phillips and Chevron — spent $52.9 million on advertising in January and February, nearly twice their total in the same period a year earlier, according to TNS Media Intelligence and published in yesterday’s Street Journal.

API and the top five are also increasing lobbying, spending $28.8 million in 2005, up 44% from the year before. Exxon Mobil has also just hired David Leiter, a former chief of staff to 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry and once the man in charge of renewable energy policy in the Clinton administration as a lobbyist.

For a man who used to work on clean energy, I hope Leiter now wakes up with a clean conscience every morning.