by: Alex Seitz-Wald
Facing possible jail time for their roles in the largest oil spill in American history, BP and Halliburton are building high-powered legal teams with “deep Department of Justice and White House ties.” But the companies are pursuing other means to defend themselves as well.
Halliburton’s campaign donations have spiked as it tries to curry favor with key members of Congress investigating the disaster. The company donated $17,000 in May, making it “the busiest donation month for Halliburton’s PAC since September 2008,” Politico reports. Thirteen of the 14 contributions from May went to Republicans, while seven went to members of Congress who are “on committees with oversight of the oil spill and its aftermath”:
About one week before executive Timothy Probert appeared before the House Energy and Commerce’s investigative subcommittee, Halliburton donated $1,500 to Ranking Republican Joe Barton’s reelection effort. It was Halliburton’s second-largest donation of the month — topped only by $2,500 to former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who is running for the Senate.
In the Senate, Idaho Republican Mike Crapo, who serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee, Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson, who serves on the Commerce Committee and North Carolina Republican Richard Burr (N.C.), who serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, all got $1,000. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also got $1,000.
Meanwhile, a Hill analysis found that primarily during the Bush administration, BP and other oil companies “paid for dozens of trips and meals for officials” from the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Homeland Security — agencies deeply involved in the regulation of oil exploration and spill cleanup. BP had the “highest tab for gifts to government officials” of all oil and gas companies:
BP and its affiliates — BP America and BP Exploration — show up in the gift reports at least 16 different times, paying for meals as well as for oil and gas industry seminars and tours of oil facilities. The cost of the gifts totaled more than $7,200.
Only two industry-funded trips took place during the first nine months of President Obama’s administration. In 2004, BP paid for a group of Interior officials to visit an offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The group included then-deputy secretary J. Steven Griles, who later went to prison for his role in Jack Abramoff scandal. In 2005, BP paid for travel and meals for then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton and then-Minerals Management Service (MMS) Director Johnnie Burton to attended the dedication ceremony of another offshore rig in the Gulf. BP also paid for officials from the EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service to visit Prudhoe Bay, Alaska over a period of several years. A recent Interior Inspector General report covering 2005 to 2007 found a “culture of lax oversight and cozy ties to industry.” Since January of 2008, BP lobbyists have spent $30 million to influence legislation, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Some coastal governors have benefited from BP as well. BP and other oil companies gave Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) $1.8 million dollars for his campaign, and since the spill, he’s been aggressively downplaying the disaster and encouraging people to visit his state’s oily beaches. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) traveled to a BP-funded conference in Houston last month “to lobby aggressively to drill for oil and natural gas without delay.” Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) dismissed potential BP negligence by calling the spill an “act of God” at a trade association funded by BP in May.