Information from PBS NOW related to Oil Politics (all links contain videos and transcripts)
The Alaskan Scandal
Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has been indicted for failing to disclose gifts he received from VECO Corporation, an Alaska-based oil services company. But his indictment is only the latest news - and perhaps the tip of the iceberg - in an ongoing political scandal that's rocking the state and Congress.
This week, NOW goes behind the breaking headlines to shine a bright light on the scandalous connection between VECO and Alaska's old-boy political network. Three state legislators have already been convicted in Federal court for accepting bribes from VECO, and the FBI has video and audio evidence that reveal VECO executives shockingly handing out cash to those legislators in exchange for promises to roll back a tax on the oil industry. And more lawmakers - including Senator Stevens' own son, former Alaska State Senate President Ben Stevens - are being eyed in the growing scandal.
Big Oil, Big Influence
Lindsay Renick Mayer is the money-in-politics reporter for the Center for Responsive Politics. The nonpartisan Washington-based organization researches money's influence on politics and provided data for this story from its website, OpenSecrets.org.
Kevin Gambrell was the director of the Federal Indian Minerals Office in Farmington, New Mexico from 1996 to 2003. He spoke to NOW's Maria Hinojosa about what he describes as widespread abuse by oil and gas companies in their efforts to avoid royalty payments. Gambrell accuses some of these companies of lying and cheating, which he says could cost American taxpayers billions of dollars as a result. Gambrell also says that the Minerals Management Service, the governmental bureau in charge of collecting such royalties, "fail in their duties to protect taxpayers."
Gambrell was fired in 2003. He reportedly said the Interior Department told him it was because he destroyed records. Gambrell sued for wrongful termination and said he and the department have reached a confidential settlement.
Paying for Politics: What Oil Buys
It's no surprise to hear that industry groups, particularly the oil and gas industries, spend a portion of their income lobbying. A report from the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit group, seeks to reveal exactly how much government influence this money is buying. The report POLITICS OF OIL, released on July 15, 2004, is an international investigation of one of the world's richest industries and how it influences government and public policy around the world.
The Center found that the industry has spent more than $440 million over the past six years on politicians, political parties, and lobbyists to protect its interests in Washington. The Center also lists among its key findings:
Pain At The Pump
Americans love their cars and cars rely on gasoline — thus it isn't surprising that record-high prices are making news on Capitol Hill as well as on Main Street. The headlines reflect the tenor of the times: "Big Oil CEOs Under Fire In Congress," "Senators Grill Oil Executives on Prices and Profits." Industry analysts project that home heating bills will be 50 percent higher this winter, and although they've dropped in recent weeks, gas prices are still up 56 percent over last two years. At the same time, industry profits are at an all-time high. The high profits had senators talking tough to oil industry executives. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) said "My constituents think someone rigged the price and someone - them - is getting ripped off." He went on to ask point blank: "Are you rigging the price of oil?"
What are the profits that are raising eyebrows? Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch/Shell reported total earnings last quarter of nearly $33 billion. The industry's third-quarter profits jumped 62 percent. And, Exxon Mobil, the nation's biggest oil company, posted the biggest corporate profit in history.
The Royalty Treatment
When veteran government auditor Bobby Maxwell learned oil giant Kerr McGee was not paying the $10 million he says it owed in oil royalties, he prepared an order to Kerr McGee to pay up. Making sure the government gets its money from energy companies was Maxwell's job in the Minerals Management Service (MMS), a division of the Department of the Interior. But Maxwell claims his bosses at the MMS quashed that order.