BP ties ooze into elec­tions

Politi­cians find that con­nec­tions to firm in­volved in oil spill can be slung like tar balls against op­po­nents

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Asher Price

As Demo­cratic can­di­date Jeff Weems and Repub­li­can can­di­date David Porter spar to be­come rail­road com­mis­sioner, the Porter cam­paign is seek­ing to ex­ploit what it hopes Texas vot­ers will see as a sin: Weems has worked as a BP lawyer.

Porter cam­paign man­ager Corbin Casteel has pre­pared a sheaf of re­search for re­porters that touches on Weems’ con­nec­tions to BP, which has been widely blamed for the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon oil spill dis­as­ter in the Gulf of Mex­ico. The Rail­road Com­mis­sion reg­u­lates oil and gas mat­ters.

“I do a very spe­cific set of lit­i­ga­tion rep­re­sent­ing BP,” said Weems, who rep­re­sents the com­pany in cases in the north­ern part of West Texas and in the Pan­han­dle “when they get sued by wealthy roy­alty own­ers who want more roy­al­ties.”

As far as the Deep­wa­ter cri­sis goes, “BP needs to be called to task and held re­spon­si­ble,” Weems said.

If noth­ing else, the Porter-Weems

Con­tin­ued from A ker­fuf­fle shows how BP has be­come ra­dioac­tive. Politi­cians across the nation are learn­ing that any as­so­ci­a­tion with the com­pany can be slung like tar balls against them.

“Clearly any ties to BP are a po­ten­tial li­a­bil­ity,” said Mark Jones, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Rice Uni­ver­sity. “Any work done for them, any do­na­tions re­ceived, any­thing an op­po­nent can seize upon.”

But spot­light­ing con­nec­tions with BP will have less po­lit­i­cal trac­tion in Texas than in other states, Jones said.

“There’s an oil and gas tra­di­tion, so it’s less of a vul­ner­a­bil­ity,” he said. “There’s a lot of drilling through­out the state, and so many peo­ple are in­volved in the en­ergy in­dus­try. Just be­cause you work for the en­ergy in­dus­try, un­less you’ve cov­ered some­thing up or de­fend BP now,” it’s not a mark against a can­di­date.

Still, both ma­jor par­ties are get­ting in the game.

In a video pro­duced by the Washington-based Lone Star Project and shown at the Texas Demo­cratic Party con­ven­tion in Cor­pus Christi in June, a quote from Gov. Rick Perry de­scrib­ing BP as hav­ing had “a very good safety record” was jux­ta­posed with im­ages of the 2005 ex­plo­sion at a BP re­fin­ery at Texas City and the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon oil spill. The video — which said that af­ter the BP oil rig ex­ploded in April, Rick Perry “went to work de­fend­ing BP” — in­cluded a news re­port from 2009 that de­scribed BP as the sin­gle largest donor to the restora­tion of the Gover­nor’s Man­sion.

Even an ef­fort to wag a fin­ger at BP can back­fire.

In May, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Gregg Abbott called a news con­fer­ence to say that he would press BP to live “up to its com­mit­ment to pay all le­git­i­mate claims aris­ing out of the oil spill.” He also said BP of­fi­cials had re­sponded with “all the right ac­tions and all the right com­ments.” His Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Bar­bara Ann Radnofsky, then wrote in the Huff­in­g­ton Post that “our state’s chief ex­ec­u­tives are trip­ping over them­selves ra­tio­nal­iz­ing BP’s ac­tions.”

On Tues­day, Abbott, per­haps to bur­nish his anti-BP bona fides, called for the com­pany to set aside $25 mil­lion to pay for Texas cleanup af­ter re­ports of a small num­ber of tar balls said to be from the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon spill washed up on Texas beaches.

The clear­est sign of the po­lit­i­cal ra­dioac­tiv­ity of BP came in June, when U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-En­nis, apol­o­gized to BP for what he de­scribed as a “shake­down” af­ter the White House pressed the com­pany to set aside $20 bil­lion to pay dam­age claims to thou­sands of fish­er­men and oth­ers along the Gulf Coast. Barton even­tu­ally apol­o­gized for the apol­ogy, and the Repub­li­cans con­sid­ered strip­ping him of an im­por­tant com­mit­tee post.

Al­though BP has given lit­tle di­rect money to Texas politi­cians, the com­pany and its af­fil­i­ates spent as much as $210,000 in lob­by­ing in 2009, ac­cord­ing to records filed with the Texas Ethics Com­mis­sion. This year, BP and re­lated en­ti­ties have spent as much as $260,000 on lob­by­ing con­tracts.

Texas is not the only place where the cam­paign trope of BP con­nec­tions is play­ing out. The New York Times re­ported in June that the oil spill is wash­ing into races across the coun­try.

Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date Rand Paul of Ken­tucky has been ex­co­ri­ated for call­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s crit­i­cism of BP “un-Amer­i­can.”

The Times re­ported that Illi­nois Demo­cratic Se­nate can­di­date Alexi Gian­nou­lias has faced fire be­cause an un­paid ad­viser once lob­bied in Chicago for the arm of BP that builds gas sta­tions.

In the Penn­syl­va­nia Se­nate race, Demo­cratic Rep. Joe Ses­tak has ac­cused his Repub­li­can op­po­nent, Pat Toomey, of putting “Big Oil ahead of the Amer­i­can peo­ple’’ af­ter re­ceiv­ing $96,050 from the oil and gas in­dus­try since 1989, ac­cord­ing to the Times.

And in Florida, Repub­li­can Se­nate can­di­date Marco Rubio has found his pop­u­lar­ity wan­ing be­cause of his sup­port for drilling off the coast of Florida.

Back in Texas at the Cor­pus Christi con­ven­tion, Weems dis­played an im­age of the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon rig ex­plo­sion and told the au­di­ence, “This can never hap­pen in Texas.”

Should he be elected rail­road com­mis­sioner, he said, he would re­sign his in­ter­est in his law firm — and re­cuse him­self in com­mis­sion mat­ters where ap­pro­pri­ate.

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