Over $629 million in Super PAC (Political Action Committee) spending didn’t sway U.S. voters as significantly as expected in this past election, but in the coming months will the billions spent in corporate lobbying sway Congress?

Lobbying is a multi-billion dollar industry. While it’s technically true that any constituent can go lobby or try to persuade their legislators, the vast majority of lobbying that is happening in our capitals is funded by -and promotes- corporate interests.

Tens of thousands of corporate lobbyists call the DC area home. Since 2008, Wall Street has spent over $2.2 billion on lobbying, largely in order to weaken and squirm out of financial regulations. Add in the pharmaceutical, HMO, agribusiness, business, oil & energy, and defense/militarism sectors and we’re talking nearly $4 billion since 2011 spent specifically to get corporations unprecedented (and undue) influence over all those folks we just elected into office.

In this year’s election, nearly $6 billion was spent to influence the 120 million votes of the American electorate. Compare that to the $2 billion spent lobbying by the top corporate sectors this year to influence a handful of decision-makers. No matter who gets into office, once the elections are over, corporations spend billions to influence the victor. While the corporate elite gave well-financed electioneering an old college try, now these interests will be lobbying harder than ever to influence the decisions of around 750 hundred key decision-makers (Congress, presidential administrators, and state and federal offices like the EPA, SEC and FDA) to get what they want directly from the people who can give it to them. If you were a greedy businessman, what would you do?

Sheldon Adelson may be lamenting, “I spent $60 million and all I got were these lousy House seats.” But now Adelson can just reroute money into lobbying, pay someone in a suit seven figures to put his feet up on the desk of a Congressperson, and still get a lot of what he wants, or at least less of what he doesn’t.

I don’t get to put my feet up on my Congressperson’s desk. I mean, I could try, but I would probably get in trouble. So why don’t lobbyists? They don’t deserve the proximity of influence and mental bandwidth of our elected leaders that their corporate-funded tactics afford them. Besides, these lobbyists usually aren’t even members of the constituencies that decision-makers were elected to represent!

Corporations are not people, and money is not speech. But the speech of people hired by corporations to do their bidding in Washington needs to be reined in. On the heels of an historical election and shifting political paradigm, we must be prepared in our civic activism to challenge corporate power plays beyond those unleashed by the Citizens United ruling. We must be vigilant in challenging the undue influence of corporate lobbyists. The voters and constituencies who just cleaned out DC expect integrity, and this means that legislators need to say NO to corporate lobbyists spoon-feeding them profit prioritizing policy and analysis… that’s not who they are elected to represent.

Voting truly does matter, but a healthy democracy requires ongoing participation.

If you want to take action to protect democracy now that the election has concluded, consider looking into Global Exchange’s Elect Democracy campaign and follow @ElectDemocracy and @GlobalExchange on Twitter.

See for yourself how much campaign money the last Congress received from Wall Street and their “Wall Street Loyalty Rate” based on how often their votes matched Wall Street’s lobby position. Most importantly, call your Congressperson and remind them that their job is to represent you, not lobbyists, in Congress.

Fact Sources:

  • SuperPACs spent $629 million: MapLight.org
  • Election cost $4.2 billion: Center for Responsive Politics:  OpenSecrets.org
  • Lobbying costs: Center for Responsive Politics for a) $2.2 billion Wall Street in 2012, and b) $4 for top sector lobbying (opensecrets.org)

TAKE ACTION:

  • Make the Call! Call your Congressperson and remind them that their job is to represent you, not lobbyists, in Congress.
  • Leave a comment with your ideas about how to challenge the undue influence that corporate lobbyists have in DC.

Earlier this week, the President of Turkmenistan announced a short list of companies from whom his country will accept proposals to develop two offshore blocks in the Caspian Sea.[i] Since President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov came to power nearly four years ago, Turkmenistan’s vast hydrocarbon reserves have been the source of intense lobbying by petroleum giants from around the globe.  The efforts of four of these companies were rewarded, in part, this week.  Not unexpectedly, Chevron is among the shortlisted companies, joined by ConocoPhilips, Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development Co. and newcomer TX Oil Limited, chaired by Neil Bush, son of US President George H.W. Bush.

Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most closed and repressive countries.  A small nation of approximately 5 million people, it is located in Central Asia and is bordered by the Caspian Sea to the west, Iran and Afghanistan to the south, Uzbekistan to the east, and Kazakhstan to the north.  Identified by Freedom House as one of the World’s Most Repressive Regimes in 2009 (and almost every year prior), Turkmenistan is a country with no freedom of the press, an authoritarian government, and a President who is quickly building a cult of personality rivaling that of the previous “President for Life,” Niyazov, who died suddenly of a heart attack in December 2006.[ii] Civil society has been all but destroyed by the repressive policies of the government of Turkmenistan.

Further alarming is the fact that Turkmenistan’s government has no accountability mechanisms for reporting oil and gas revenues.  The country’s previous president deposited petroleum funds in a semi-private, off budget account in Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt.[iii] President Berdymukhammedov has made no reforms in this area, and a newly touted “Stabilization Fund,” into which oil and gas revenues would be placed, remains a mystery as there is no public documentation that such a fund actually exists.[iv]

As we have seen repeatedly in neighboring Kazakhstan, where Chevron is the largest private oil producer, and elsewhere around the world, engaging with corrupt and opaque regimes to secure hydrocarbons without first insisting on significant improvements in transparency, rule of law and human rights leads to unjust and unsustainable policies and practices.[v]

When I raised this issue at Chevron’s Annual Shareholder Meeting this past May, CEO John Watson confirmed that his company was in negotiations with the government of Turkmenistan, adding “I think we can do some good in Turkmenistan” even though “we may not meet your standards”.[vi] Perhaps I had not been clear about my concerns, for at stake are not the standards of any single individual, nonprofit organization or even corporation.  At stake are the standards and best practices enshrined in national and international laws and regulations.  These are the standards that Chevron is obligated to meet, and encouraged to exceed.  These are the standards by which Chevron’s shareholders, the international community and the citizens of the Chevron’s host countries evaluate whether or not the company is “doing some good”.

As Chevron has yet to finalize a contract with Turkmenistan, we have a unique, but waning opportunity to urge the company to insist upon significant improvements in human rights and rule of law prior to active operations in the country.  For more on how you can get involved at this critical moment, please visit www.crudeaccountability.org.

Michelle Kinman is Deputy Director of Crude Accountability.

(michelle@crudeaccountability.org)


[i]http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-08-13/chevron-conoco-bush-brother-s-company-may-get-caspian-exploration-rights.html

[ii] http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=505

[iii] http://www.globalwitness.org/media_library_detail.php/879/en/all_that_gas_the_eu_and_turkmenistan

[iv] http://www.globalwitness.org/media_library_detail.php/879/en/all_that_gas_the_eu_and_turkmenistan

[v] www.truecostofchevron.com

[vi] http://www.crudeaccountability.org/en/index.php?page=hagel

Originally posted at www.earthrights.org/blog

After nearly two years of work and consistent opposition from big oil, substantive provisions of legislation initially introduced by Senators Lugar (R-IN) and Cardin (D-MD) as the Energy Security Through Transparency Act (ESTT), were signed into law by President Obama as Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act on Wednesday.   Offered by Senator Leahy (D-VT), the provision will require both US and internationally-based companies registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to publish what they pay to governments for the commercial development of oil, gas, and minerals, while creating a new international standard for transparency in the extractive industry.

The provision, which will apply to 90 percent of the largest internationally operating oil and gas companies, made the cut during an all-night House-Senate conference committee meeting over the Wall Street reform bill.  

   

The bill will have significant impacts in countries like Burma, where a lack of transparency has contributed to corruption, authoritarianism, and gross human rights violations, directly linked to the natural gas industry. According to EarthRights International’s new report,Energy Insecurity: How Total, Chevron, and PTTEP Contribute to Human Rights Violations, Financial Secrecy, and Nuclear Proliferation in Burma (Myanmar), the lack of publicly available information on revenues received by the military junta in Burma has facilitated the misuse of these funds, including massive diversion of resource-related public monies.

In fact, data from a leaked IMF report indicates 70 percent of Burma’s foreign exchange reserves are from gas exports and that gas-related payments from corporations, amounting to billions of dollars, contributed only one percent of total budget revenue.  That means that less than one percent of the largest source of income for the Burmese state actually enters the state budget. Had these revenues entered the state budget, they would have accounted for 57 percent of the total 2007/2008 budget.  The majority of the gas revenues are believed to be held in offshore banks, with reports indicating that hundreds of millions are channeled into the personal bank accounts of individuals closely associated with the ruling military junta in two offshore banks in Singapore.

When this new transparency bill takes effect — likely in 2012 — companies including Chevron, Total, the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation, the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation, and others will be forced to disclose how much they pay the regime in Burma, something they have been resisting for years. For communities and civil society inside and outside of Burma, this information can be used in attempts to hold the authorities in Burma accountable for how these monies are spent.

The reach of this bill is truly global. Communities in Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Algeria, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Russia, Columbia, Thailand, and around the world will know how much their governments receive from corporations including Shell, BP, Chevron, Exxon, Newmont Mining, and most of the other energy and mining majors operating in their countries.

EarthRights International was active throughout the legislative process, lobbying the U.S. Congress directly while providing public education, letter writing, advocacy, and training to other organizations in support of the transparency provision as a member of Publish What You Pay United States, a coalition of 32 nongovernmental organizations that advocated for the legislation. 

This bill takes aim squarely at the “resource curse,” the documented pattern in countries rich in natural resources where this wealth leads to negative development outcomes. Senator Lugar (R-IN), one of the main supporters of the transparency provision summarized the importance of this measure quite well, saying: “History shows that oil, gas reserves, and minerals can frequently be a bane, not a blessing, for poor countries leading to corruption, wasteful spending, military adventurism, and instability, and too often oil money intended for a nation’s poor ends up lining the pockets of the rich, or is squandered on showcase projects instead of productive investments.” 

While a major victory for communities in resource-rich countries, there are still several stages before the legislation is implemented and companies begin to report their payments. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must issue proposed rules that provide detailed guidance for companies covered by the bill. This process will take up to one year to complete. Groups like EarthRights International and our Publish What You Pay US colleagues will play an active role in this rule-making process, ensuring that critical information on payments is available in an effective, timely, and complete manner. Once the final rules are issued, companies will be required to disclose payments in their annual filings to the SEC going forward.

We expect that Big Oil will continue to resist these efforts as they did with the legislation. The American Petroleum Institute (API), a national trade association representing about 400 corporate members, including major oil and gas companies, made several misleading claims in a letter to members of the Senate in 2010, stating:  “API feels that requiring only U.S-listed extractive companies to disclose revenues creates a competitive disadvantage for these companies in the global energy marketplace.” Members of the US Senate were not persuaded by this specious claim, with Senator Cardin calling API’s claims, “a red herring.”

This bill may be the beginning of the end for the cloud of secrecy and corruption associated with resource extraction around the globe. With other countries like the UK considering similar measures, there is a great hope that revenue transparency becomes a norm for the industry, and we can begin to see the responsible use of these critical revenues for the benefit of local and national communities.

For more information on the transparency bill, visit www.earthrights.org