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Jul-03-2010 20:15printcomments

Congress, Who's Authoring Post Spill Oil Bills Favoring Big Oil?

The answer to how much BP and big oil will ultimate pay for the oil spill will play out in the coming months and will be a test of big oil’s influence on Congress.

Massive BP oil rig
Massive BP oil rig. Courtesy:

(BERKELEY, Ca. MAPLIGHT) - As oil continues to spill into the Gulf of Mexico legislators in both parties have been quick to respond with legislation. A number of bills have been introduced, some specifically targeting the crisis, and others with an eye toward preventing future problems. The main question to be addressed is how much BP and big oil (generally) will pay for the oil spill, now and in the future.

By examining campaign contributions researchers revealed that of legislators sponsoring post spill oil bills the ones who have received the most money from big oil are championing bills that go lightest on the industry.

Republicans have drawn about 70% of big oil money this election cycle and while many Democrats rely on big oil as a major source of campaign funding, the ones sponsoring recent oil bills are not among them.

Which one of these bills, if any, will show how much influence big oil has over the 111th Congress?

A Closer Look at Oil Bills in Congress

In the House of Representatives, seven bills addressing the question of who is financially liable for the spill have been presented. The Democrats brought five, all from representatives who have received relatively little money from oil companies in the last election cycle, and two came from Republicans who have taken in significant oil money in the last two years.

Bill Cassidy, Republican from Louisiana, received $61,100 from oil companies over the last two years, the 38th highest recipient of funds of the House’s 435 members. He sponsored a bill, H. Res. 1374, that would devote all revenue from the oil excise tax toward the Deepwater spill cleanup. This bill would offer significant federal funds to help offset BP’s tab. Cassidy also co-sponsored a bill that would end the moratorium on offshore drilling.

The other Republican bill, H.R. 5356: Oil Spill Response and Assistance Act, is sponsored by Roy Blunt (R-MO), who places third among the GOP and fourth overall in oil money received with $165,850 (incidentally the top Republican recipient is Joe Barton, who apologized to BP for the Obama administration giving it a “shakedown”). Blunt's bill addresses the liability limit on oil spills imposed by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which caps an oil company’s liability for a spill at $75 million. Blunt’s bill would raise the limit to the higher of $150 million or the sum of the offending company's after-tax profits on its previous four reporting quarters. BP's net income from April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010 was $20 billion.

New Jersey Democrat Rush Holt sponsored a companion bill, H.R. 5214: Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act of 2010, to one in the Senate, which would raise the liability limit to $10 billion plus the cost of cleanup. Far more than Blunt’s $150 million or 1 year of profits, but perhaps the most lenient of the Democrats’ bills. 

To date, Holt's bill has attracted 82 co-sponsors (one Republican and 81 Democrats), a sign that it has a good chance of moving forward. Raul Grijalva’s (D-AZ) bill, H.R. 5355: To amend the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to repeal the limitation of liability..., would remove the liability limit entirely. A resolution, H.Con.Res.280,brought forward by Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH) expresses the sentiment that BP should reimburse the federal government for all costs associated with the spill. Steve Kagen’s (D-WI) bill, H.R. 5520: Oil Spill Responsibility Act of 2010, would require BP to pay reparations to people affected by the spill, and a bill, H.R. 5513: Spilled Oil Royalty Collection Act, by Chellie Pingree (D-ME) would place a 12.5% royalty on oil removed (or spilled) from the Outer Continental Shelf (which includes the Gulf of Mexico), and apply it retroactively before the spill. Of these five Democrats, Kagen received the most oil money, $6,400, 231st among House members, and less than 1% of his fundraising total for this cycle.

Of the bills introduced in the last two months none have moved to the floor for a vote. The answer to how much BP and big oil will ultimate pay for the oil spill will play out in the coming months and will be a test of big oil’s influence on Congress.

Methodology: Campaign contributions shown for the last two years of available data, May 6, 2008 - May 5, 2010, including contributions to presidential campaigns. Contributions data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics ( research intern Owen Poindexter contributed to this story.

Source: is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization based in Berkeley, California. Its mission is to illuminate the connection between Money and Politics (MAP) using our groundbreaking database of campaign contributions and legislative votes. combines data from the Federal Election Commission, the Center for Responsive Politics,, the National Institute on Money in State Politics (NIMSP), the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission and other sources to better inform Americans and local and national media about the role of special-interest money in our political system. Hundreds of newspapers, TV stations, radio shows and online news sites have cited's research, including CNN, the public radio show Marketplace, Harper's, The Washington Post, and Reuters. has received numerous awards including a Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism; a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter and a Webby nomination for best Politics website. To learn more, please visit:

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