BP ties ooze into elections
Politicians find that connections to firm involved in oil spill can be slung like tar balls against opponents
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.