In a secretly recorded sting video released
late last month by Greenpeace
UK, Exxon Mobil
Corp. lobbyist Keith McCoy named six Democrats
giant saw as key allies in pushing its legislative agenda in the Senate
According to a new analysis of campaign disclosures, the six Democratic
senators Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Joe Manchin
(W.Va.), Chris Coons (Del.), Kyrsten Sinema
(Ariz.), and Jon Tester (Mont.) received nearly $333,000 from Exxon lobbyists, political action committees, and lobbying firms.
According to an analysis of campaign disclosures conducted by the advocacy group Oil Change U.S. and reviewed by Stardia, Tester received the most money
from Exxon Mobil, totaling $99,783 from seven lobbyists, the company's PAC, and four lobbying firms working for the company.
The report includes some donations
lobbyists at K Street behemoths like Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck made before taking on Exxon Mobil as a client. Coons and Sinema spokespeople said including those contributions in the total was “misleading” and “inaccurate.”
However, Collin Rees, the senior campaigner at Oil Change U.S. who conducted the analysis, said the donations paint a more complete picture of Exxon Mobil's influence
because they take into account the relationships
that the company's money helped cultivate as well as those that may have prompted the oil giant to hire certain lobbyists in the first place.
“This is a story about how lobbyists curry favor, and specifically about how Exxon’s current lobbyists have spent decades currying the favor of these six Democrats in order to position themselves to do things like safeguard fossil fuel subsidies and reduce infrastructure
spending,” Rees said.
Counting contributions from lobbyists like Arshi Siddiqui, some of which came before Exxon Mobil hired her
, Sinema is the second-highest recipient on the list, with $70,800 from eight Exxon Mobil lobbyists, the company PAC, and three lobbying firms.
“Inclusion of those contributions would be extremely misleading,” said John LaBombard, a spokesman for Sinema, of money from lobbyists who also work for other clients. “Kyrsten’s work in the Senate is influenced by only one thing: what is best for Arizona
Coons finished third, receiving $68,650 from seven lobbyists, the PAC, and four lobbying firms.
“One of the others that isn’t talked about is Senator Coons, who is from Delaware and has a very close relationship with Senator Biden,” McCoy said in the now-viral video, in which he believed he was speaking to corporate headhunters in Dubai, United
Arab Emirates. “So we’ve been working with his office, and our CEO
is meeting with him next Tuesday.”
It is unknown whether a meeting with Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods occurred.
Meanwhile, Manchin received the fourth-highest amount of donations, $64,864, followed by Hassan at $26,699 and Kelly, who took office in December, with $1,500.
“On the Democratic side, we look for moderates, so it’s the Manchins, the Sinemas, the Testers,” McCoy explained.
In addition to looking for right-wing senators, McCoy stated that the company looked for "who is up for reelection in 2022?"
“That's Hassan, and that's Kelly,” he explained.
A Hassan spokeswoman noted that “the video only says that Senator Hassan is up for re-election... it isn't for her support of their policies, but simply because she is up for re-election.”
of Senator Tester did not respond.
According to Exxon Mobil, it “complies with all federal and state regulations and lobbying laws.”
“We have a responsibility to our customers, employees, communities, and shareholders to represent their interests in public policy discussions that impact
,” Todd Spitler, an Exxon Mobil spokesman, said, adding that McCoy’s comments “do not represent the company’s position on a variety
of issues, including comments regarding interactions with elected officials.”
In the video, McCoy stated that Exxon Mobil is “playing defense” as the Biden administration
and its slim Democratic majority in Congress
seek to enact the country’s most significant climate
legislation ever, including voting
on an infrastructure package containing billions of dollars for clean energy
and electric vehicles, as well as attempting to pass a 100% clean electricity standard through budget
The push comes amid a cascade of climate disasters, from deadly heat waves
on one coast to historic flooding on the other, that scientists say will worsen and become more frequent if fossil fuel use continues unabated. Even the International Energy Agency, hardly a tree-hugging organization, projects that averting catastrophic warming means “no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects beginning today
However, influence peddling is nothing new for the $258 billion company, which was a major financier of a network of climate denial think tanks in the 1990s and early 2000s. Today, Exxon Mobil funds trade associations that lobby against climate policies, providing a rhetorical contrast to oil giants
who advocate for politically unpopular proposals that are unlikely to be implemented.
Donations do not always imply political clout. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass. ), one of the leading advocates for phasing out fossil fuel use, previously accepted campaign contributions
from Exxon Mobil lobbyists. He returned them in 2019, but the incident highlighted how deeply oil companies are woven into the fabric of American politics
, and how difficult it can be to avoid threa
According to a 2017 Ohio
study, for every $10,000 a lawmaker received from a major industrial polluter like Exxon Mobil, their probability of voting for pro-environmental legislation decreased by 2%, according to the study of donations between 1990 and 2010, published in the journal Environmen
Firms such as Exxon Mobil give “money to secure access to politicians
,” according to Tyson Slocum, the energy program director at the anti-corruption organization Public Citizen.
“While gaining access does not guarantee results, it does ensure that the company can influence the thinking and positions taken by the politician receiving the money,” Slocum said, noting that he condemned Greenpeace UK’s “deceptive tactics” in duping McCoy. “And the result shows that Exxon does indeed appear to influence these and other elected officials to whom it contributes.”
When it comes to political donations, corporate lobbyists "expect something in return," according to Virginia
Canter, chief ethics
counsel at the Washington-based watchdog Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics.
“As a result, when Exxon’s lobbyists, PACs, and lobbying firms make donations to specific senators, we must ask ourselves what they expect and what they received in return,” said Canter, a former ethics counsel for the Obama and Clinton administrations.
The sting video has prompted new scrutiny of Exxon Mobil beyond its campaign contributions, with The New Republic investigating the company's routine six-figure donations to centrist think tanks like the Brookings Institution. On Monday, the advocacy group Physicians for Social Responsibility released a new report indicating that the oil giant uses so-called forever chemicals, a family
of cancer-causing chemicals.
Environmentalists would likely "start talking about how this is an Exxon Mobil chemical and Exxon Mobil is poisoning our waterways" if Exxon Mobil's use of PFAS was more widely known, McCoy said in one segment of the video.
He claims that “the debate is pretty much over” once the public accepts that framing of reality.