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With all of the attention on energy issues and the Bush administration's recent release of a National Energy Policy, it's instructive to take a look at political contributions from the energy industry, predominantly in the oil and gas and the electric utility categories, and to attempt to follow that money.

It's not surprising that the energy industry gave the majority of their $32 million campaign donations to former oil businessman George W. Bush and the Republicans in last year's presidential election. But the size of that majority is worth noting. Republicans received 78 percent of donations compared to 20 percent for Democrats in the oil and gas category, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Bush received $1.8 million from oil and gas companies in the 2000 election cycle, over 13 times as much as his opponent Al Gore, who received $137,000.

The biggest single donor in the oil and gas category for the 2000 election cycle was Enron, giving over $2.3 million to both political parties, with almost three-quarters of that going to Republicans. In the 2000 election campaign alone, the Bush campaign received over $110,000 from Enron and its employees, with another $300,000 donated to the Inaugural Committee after the election.

Donations from the electric utilities industry were also lopsided, with Republicans receiving 63 percent and Democrats 37 percent. Bush took in almost seven times more from the electric industry than Gore, $447,000 to $65,000. The Southern Company was the biggest electric utilities donor, contributing over $1.4 million in the 2000 election cycle, with 74 percent going to the Republican Party. The coal industry was even more unbalanced, giving almost 90 percent of their donations to the GOP.

So, with two former oilmen in the nation's top jobs and another, Donald Evans, heading up the Commerce Department, along with former energy executives sprinkled throughout the administration, it's not a surprise that the Bush National Energy Policy emphasizes increased production and less regulation of the energy industry. Among other things, the energy policy calls for opening up access for energy traders to regional transmission lines, encouraging oil exploration in Alaska and loosening environmental regulations that hinder the construction of new pipelines and power plants.

Environmentalists and consumer groups cried foul not only at the contents of the Bush energy report, but also at the process of creating the energy policy. They claim energy lobbyists and company executives received extensive access to the White House and the energy task force, while consumer and environmental groups were frozen out, or given very little time to state their positions on energy issues.

In fact, Ken Lay, the chairman of Enron, was granted a private meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney. He was one of only a few executives given the opportunity to state their case directly to Cheney, who heads the President's National Energy Policy Development Group. "Ken's been a friend. I once was involved in doing a baseball stadium for Ken Lay, didn't have anything to do with energy," Cheney told FRONTLINE. "This time around when he came in to see me, he did want to talk about energy."

"I'm flattered that he decided to meet with me and at least hear me out as to some of the things that I thought were pretty important that should be considered for his report," Lay said. Lay takes exception to the notion that being the largest political donor to the Republicans in the energy sector buys him or Enron improper influence. "Immediately it's assumed that if you make a contribution to a political campaign you expect some kind of quid pro quo, something in return for it. I mean, there are a few of us that are still maybe idealistic enough [to] think that we can support a candidate because we really believe in the individual," Lay says.

More Resources

Check out a full report on political donations and the energy business
from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Study of energy company political donations to California politicians
The nonprofit research organization Center for Public Integrity, a watchdog group that examines and reports on the influence of special interest money on government policy and legislation, recently released their this study during the period when lawmakers were drafting and voting on the 1996 deregulation of the California electricity market.

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