Alabama Scene

Big Oil’s money taints Congress

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail:

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail:

As black gold spews from the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico, turning the worth of our beaches, fishing waters, and wetlands into black pennies, it baffles me why some members of Congress continue to voice equal concern for big oil’s offshore drilling.

Consider this statement last week by a candidate for the U. S. Senate in Louisiana: “We need to find that balance between “drill, baby, drill and spill, baby, spill.” The balance I presume being suggested is that the spill should be only half as much as has poured from the BP disaster at its Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

There’s an easy explanation for Congressional sympathy toward big oil. Since 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics(CRP), the energy (oil and gas) and natural resources sector has contributed over a HALFBILLION dollars to members of the House and Senate.

The top 10 oil dollars’ list over the past two decades in the Senate reads like a “Who’s Who” of recent American politics. The leader of this “million-dollar oil contribution club” is Sen. John McCain (R) Arizona with $2.7 million, $2.4 million of that coming during his campaign for President. He is followed in this order: Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) Texas, $2.1 million; Sen. Phil Gramm (R) Texas, $1.7 million; Sen. John Cornyn (R) Texas, $1.6 million; and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) Oklahoma, $1.6 million. Barely missing this elite list was Sen. Barack Obama (D) Illinois, coming in at $970,251, all but a few dollars of that amount, like John McCain, coming during the time he was a Presidential candidate.

Don’t be alarmed. Alabama’s senators were not overlooked by the oil, gas, and energy forces, but like President Obama, they didn’t quite make the elite $2-million club. Unlike Obama, however, they were not seeking the Presidency. Sen. Richard Shelby (R) Alabama has pulled down $844,814 since he joined the Senate Club, while Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) Alabama, has raked in $736,572 since he arrived in the upper chamber.

Neither were our members of the U.S. House of Representatives overlooked by the oil, gas, and energy boys over the past 20 years. Leading the Heart of Dixie
pack was Rep. Robert Aderholt (R) Haleyville, who pulled in $417,330; followed by Rep Mike Rogers (R) Saks, with $383,557; Rep. Spencer Bachus (R) Birmingham, with $364,648; Rep. Jo Bonner (R) Mobile, with $237,962; Rep. Artur Davis (D) Birmingham, with $172,814; Rep. Parker Griffith (R) Huntsville, with $95,050; and Rep. Bobby Bright (D) Montgomery, with $63,350.

Over the past two decades in Congress, 31 percent of the oil, gas, and energy money has gone to Democrats and 69 percent to Republicans according to the CRP.

I do not believe these contributions will stop members from being tough on the mismanagement and negligence of BP and its partners in the operation of the oil platform disaster in the gulf. But it sure does cast a large cloud over Congress’s ability to deal with those who feed it, in particular because of the fact that BP, Exxon Mobil, and Chevron are among the largest contributors from the oil and energy industry.

Governor diverts road funds to courts

Last week The Montgomery Independent

reported that the Riley Administration bailed out the state court system and the state Department of Public Safety by transferring $49.5 million from the Public Road and Bridge Fund to the 2010-11 budgets for those departments.

Although road funds have been diverted to Public Safety since 1992, it is the first time road funds have been diverted to any other department or agency. The court system over which the state Supreme Court supervises and controls the funding, was provided $25 million from the road fund and Public Safety received the remaining $24.5 million.

“Nearly $50 million out of a $481- million budget is over 10 percent. That’s a pretty significant amount to us,” said Don Vaughn, chief engineer at the state Department of Transportation. “That’s pothole-patching money, that’s sign-replacement money, that’s federal matching dollars,” he added. Other DOT officials, who asked not to be quoted by name, expressed concerns that the diversion will not be “just a one-year thing.”

Some in the capital city believe the Riley Administration’s transfer is an attempt by the governor to influence the Supreme Court. The justices have before them a matter important to Riley…a decision over who controls his Anti- Gambling Task Force…Attorney General Troy King or Mobile District Attorney John Tyson, who the governor appointed as the task force’s commander.