The oil and gas industry spent an all-time high of nearly $84 million to push its agenda in Washington last year, according to a new analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Oil and gas industry spending on lobbying has steadily increased over the past three years, as Washington lawmakers criticized big oil for raking in hundreds of billions in record profits while consumers felt the squeeze at gas pumps, and proposed ending industry tax breaks and imposing a windfall tax on profits.
The industry has already reported spending $26.5 million on lobbying in the first three months of this year. The Center estimates that total spending could be as much as $106 million for the year, if the expenditures continue at its current pace.
"Our activity is pretty much premised on what Congress is doing, so if we increased activity it's because there were more bills being discussed," said Karen Matusic, a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute, a group that represents the energy industry in Washington.
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, says that most industries view their lobbying expenses as a good investment.
"It's viewed simply as the cost of doing business, and it is usually a small cost compared to the potential profit or harm that can be visited on you by Washington if you ignore them," said Krumholz.
ExxonMobil, which made $40 billion profits last year, was the biggest spender with $16.9 million in lobbying expenses in 2007, more than double the amount the company spent four years ago. This year, the firm has hired 11 outside firms to help do its bidding on Capitol Hill, according to filings.
While the oil industry's lobbying has been on the rise, the Center's analysis shows that campaign contributions to Members of Congress have leveled off to $18.4 million so far this year. Krumholz says that the contributions continue to be heavily tilted to the Republican party, despite the Democratic takeover of Congress.
Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain is the largest beneficiary of the industry's largess this year, with $1 million in contributions from oil and gas industry employees and executives, according the Center's website opensecrets.org.