Crude Conflict of Interest

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This post is part the first installment of a new series that will explore the favors that lawmakers already under an ethical cloud for various lobbying and money and politics scandals give to their biggest contributors.


Today’s focus: Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), who has taken heat for working closely with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff on legislation to favor Abramoff’s tribal clients after those clients made hefty contributions to his campaign - $20,000 in total plus another $9,000 from Abramoff.


Pombo has received more campaign contributions from Bil Oil than any other California congressman this election cycle . He’s collected $95,900 toward the 2006 elections alone, more than all but three other House members. This marks a big increase for Pombo—the amount is a full 40% of the total--$239,188—he’s taken from Big Oil since he first ran for his seat in 1992. Why are the oil companies giving him such a boost this time around?


For 25 years, there has been a ban on offshore drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast and with good reason. Coastal drilling encourages beach pollution, raises the risk of massive oil spells, and hurts the tourist industry on which the region depends. But that could all change this week if the Senate adopts S.3711, which would allow oil companies to move in and start setting up their rigs.


Led by lead sponsor Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), the House already voted 232 to 187 last month on its version of the bill, H.R. 4761. Pombo says the bill, the Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act, will reduce gas prices for consumers by increasing oil supply. But U.S. PIRG estimates that the Florida area being explored for drilling in the Senate’s bill, S.3711, will provide only 26 days worth of oil at the current rate of consumption, and any further oil resources in the area wouldn’t be available until 2022. Rather it will set a precedent to overturn the offshore drilling ban (which the House is already behind), with potentially disastrous consequences for the ecosystems and economies of coastal areas with little long term benefit to cash-strapped consumers.


If this legislation becomes law, who wins? The big oil companies that have already taken advantage of the energy crisis to rake in record profits and put a squeeze on the pocketbooks of consumers. What’s worse, starting drilling off Florida could be a gateway towards further coastal exploitation.


What’s in it for Pombo? In a word, money. And all politicians, especially those in tough re-election fights like Pombo, need money for their campaigns. That’s why we believe a system of Clean Elections, or comprehensive public funding with spending limits, works best – it frees our elected officials from the pressures of fundraising, and blunts the interest of powerful interests like Big Oil.