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BP liked Obama, but oil stained Palin's hands too
Crude oil churns across the surface of the Gulf of Mexico Crude oil churns across the surface of the Gulf of Mexico

Crude oil churns across the surface of the Gulf of Mexico

Robert Farley
By Robert Farley May 24, 2010

On Fox News Sunday, Sarah Palin suggested oil money steered to Barack Obama during the presidential election may have slowed the administration's response to the massive BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico.

The comments from the former Republican vice presidential nominee came in response to Fox host Chris Wallace's question about how she thought the Obama administration has handled the oil spill so far.

"Well, I think that there is perhaps a hesitancy to -- I don't really know how to put this, Chris, except to say that the oil companies who have so supported President Obama in his campaign and are supportive of him now -- I don't know why the question isn't asked by the mainstream media and by others if there's any connection with the contributions made to President Obama and his administration and the support by the oil companies to the administration," Palin said.

"If there's any connection there to President Obama taking so doggone long to get in there, to dive in there, and grasp the complexity and the potential tragedy that we are seeing here in the Gulf of Mexico -- now, if this was President Bush or if this were a Republican in office who hadn't received as much support even as President Obama has from B.P. and other oil companies, you know the mainstream media would be all over his case in terms of asking questions why the administration didn't get in there and make sure that the regulatory agencies were doing what they were doing with the oversight to make sure that things like this don't happen."

The implications from Palin's comments are clear, but her comments are framed as a question or a hypothetical rather than as a fact that we could put to the Truth-O-Meter. Nonetheless, we think we can bring some facts to these comments to provide some context.

The fact is, the oil and gas industry throws around a lot of money in Washington. The industry spent $174 million lobbying Congress in 2009, ranking it behind only the pharmaceutical/health products industry and business associations. By contrast, the Center for Responsive Politics notes that the entire environmental movement spent $22 million on lobbying in 2009.

In 2009, BP alone spent $16 million to influence legislation; and another $3.5 million in the first quarter of 2010. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, its agenda included lobbying actively on the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009, which allows increased oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico; as well as on the Oil Spill Prevention Act of 2009 and the Clean Water Restoration Act.

More of BP's money has been heading to the campaigns of Republicans than Democrats. And as an industry, about three quarters of the oil and gas money has gone to Republicans since 1990, the Center on Responsive Politics noted. That disparity held true in the 2008 presidential campaign, as McCain and his running-mate Palin accepted $2.4 million in contributions from the oil industry, more than double the nearly $900,000 that went to Obama.

But curiously, when you look at BP in particular, Obama took the lion's share.

During the 2008 election cycle, Obama was the largest recipient of BP's largess; collecting $71,051 from BP employees (remember, Obama did not take any PAC money). By comparison, McCain, got $36,649 from BP. So Obama held a sizable edge in contributions from BP, even though in general BP sent more money to Republican candidates than Democrats that election cycle.

In all, the Obama campaign took in about $750 million. So while $71,051 from BP employees is nothing to scoff at, it was a relative drop in the bucket to his campaign coffers.

And to be fair, we also took a look at Palin's contributions from 2006 when she ran, successfully, for governor of Alaska. According to data from National Institute on Money in State Politics, Palin received $4,500 from BP employees that year; and about $15,500 from the gas and oil industry as a whole. That was significantly less than her Democratic opponent, Tony Knowles, who raked in about $25,500 from the oil and gas industry.

"She (Palin) didn't raise a lot of money from oil and gas," said Edwin Bender, executive director of the institute.

And that's not particularly surprising, he said. Every candidate in Alaska gets some oil money, and Knowles likely got more because he was simply better-known at the time, Bender said.

But back to Palin's suggestion about Obama. The claim seems especially curious in light of the tone taken by the Obama campaign back in 2008, as White House secretary Robert Gibbs reminded viewers on CBS' Face the Nation on May 23, 2010.

"Well, Sarah Palin was involved in that election, but I don't think apparently was paying a whole lot of attention," Gibbs said. "I'm almost sure that the oil companies don't consider the Obama administration a huge ally. We proposed a windfall profits tax when they jacked their oil prices up to charge more for gasoline."

In August of 2008, PolitiFact weighed in on an ad from the Obama campaign -- called "Pocket," as in "McCain is in the pocket of big oil" -- which criticized McCain for taking more than $2 million in oil company contributions and noting that Obama was calling for a windfall tax on oil company profits. A frequent campaign jab from Obama's stump speeches was that, "McCain will give more tax breaks to big oil." It was a claim we ruled Barely True -- McCain was calling for cutting the corporate tax rate for all companies, not just oil companies. But the point is that the Obama campaign took pains to try to tie McCain to big oil; and portray Obama as someone who would fight against big oil influence in Washington. In fact, the Democratic National Committee launched a whole campaign along that theme, including T-shirts with the jab, "ExxonMcCain'08."

While some of that can be dismissed as campaign rhetoric, it's also true that oil companies were (and are) concerned about Obama's cap-and-trade climate change proposal, as well as his then-proposal for a windfall profits tax. (Incidentally, that's Promise No. 446 in our Obama campaign promise database, and we've got it rated on the Obameter as Stalled).

So by way of review: Obama got more during the campaign from BP employees than McCain did; but McCain got significantly more from the oil and gas industry as a whole. BP has spent a lot of money lobbying since Obama became president, but that money has gone to Democrats and Republicans alike -- and most often to those on energy-related committees.

"They (oil industry contributors) play both sides of the aisle," said Bender. "The money goes to whoever is in power. They want to be at the table talking."

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Our Sources

Center for Responsive Politics, "BP Enjoys Lobbying Strength, Close Ties to Lawmakers as Federal Investigation Looms," by Cassandra LaRussa, April 30, 2010
National Institute on Money in State Politics, Follow the Money Database: Alaska
Interview with Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, May 24, 2010
Interview with Michael Beckel, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, May 24, 2010

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BP liked Obama, but oil stained Palin's hands too