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One of America’s most powerful and outspoken opponents of climate change regulation received election campaign contributions that can be traced back to senior BP staff, including chief executive Bob Dudley.
Jim Inhofe, a Republican senator from Oklahoma who has tirelessly campaigned against calls for a carbon tax and challenges the overwhelming consensus on climate change, received $10,000 from BP’s Political Action Committee.
Following his re-election, Inhofe became chair of the Senate’s environment and public works committee in January, and then a month later was featured in news bulletins throwing a snowball across the Senate floor.
Before tossing it, the senator said: “In case we have forgotten—because we keep hearing that 2014 is the warmest year on record—it is very, very cold outside. Very unseasonal.”
The BP PAC is funded by contributions from senior US executives and company staffers who sent in contributions to the PAC totaling more than $1 million between 2010 and 2014. Over the same period the committee paid out $655,000 to candidates, with more than 40 incumbent senators benefiting.
Yet, BP and Dudley have long called for world leaders to intervene and impose tough regulatory measures on the fossil fuel industry. Publishing its 98-page research paper, Energy Outlook 2035, last month, BP warned: “To abate carbon emissions further will require additional significant steps by policymakers beyond the steps already assumed.”
Dudley has personally given $19,000 since June 2011 to the BP PAC—very close to the $5,000-a-year maximum allowable by law. Although Dudley is a resident of Britain, he is eligible to give via the BP PAC because he is a US national.
While the sums channeled to Inhofe’s campaign represent only a small proportion of the BP PAC’s election spending and the senator’s own campaign funds, they show how unafraid the committee has been to spread its donations to the most controversial candidates. According to the BP PAC website, it financially supports election candidates “whose views and/or voting records reflect the interests of BP employees.”
Records suggest Inhofe’s 2014 campaign was a funding priority for the BP PAC, ranking as one of the top recipients of committee funds when compared with disbursements to other serving senators.
This was despite Inhofe’s senate battle not being a close one. His opponent, Matt Silverstein, who Inhofe beat comfortably in last November’s midterms, had a tiny campaign war chest by comparison.
BP was asked whether it was appropriate for the PAC to make campaign contributions to such a vocal opponent of action on climate change, or for Dudley to be contributing towards such payments.
In a statement BP replied: “Voluntary donations by staff to the BP employees’ political action committee in the US are used to support a variety of candidates across the political spectrum and in many US geographies where we operate.”
“These candidates have one thing in common: They are important advocates for the energy industry in the broadest sense.”
It added: “BP’s position on climate change is well known and is long-established. We believe that climate change is an important long-term issue that justifies global action.”
The company declined to comment on Dudley’s own donations.
PACs exist in the US where companies and trade unions cannot give directly to the campaigns of those running for office. Instead funds are pooled from staff—often senior executives—into a PAC, and disbursed by a committee board, often in a manner sympathetic to the company’s lobby and other interests.
Other US oil industry leaders, including Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson, make contributions to their own corporate PACs—money which in many cases can then be traced to Inhofe and other climate-skeptic politicians.
But Tillerson and other peers have not been as outspoken as BP and Dudley in calling for state intervention to tackle climate change, making the BP boss’s links to Inhofe campaign finance more controversial.