Sunday, July 26, 2009

Big Oil and Gas Image Article

7/21/09 4:28 AM EDT
The big pharmaceutical companies did it. Wal-Mart did, too. Coal is still
working on it. Now the oil and gas industry is about to undergo a political
For years - and even today - Big Oil has conjured up images of white, male
CEOs; big, fat profits; and lots and lots of campaign money to Republicans
who think global warming is junk science.
Clearly, that's an antiquated profile, one more likely to antagonize than
attract the power players now on Capitol Hill and in the White House.
The problem for the industry, though, is that much of the image is true. The
challenge now is to broaden it, fuzz its edges and put a more diverse and
vibrant face on it.
The man tapped to do the job is Jack Gerard, who's actually something of a
political turnaround artist.
Gerard took the helm of the oil and natural gas industry's trade
association, the American Petroleum Institute, last fall after a three-year
tour at the American Chemical Council.
During his tenure there, Gerard transformed the trade association from a
Republican-bent insider's club to a more bipartisan, grass-roots-oriented
Under his watch, the chemical industry's political donations shifted from a
nearly 80-20 split for Republicans in 2004 to a roughly 50-50 split today,
according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The chemical industry's adaption to the times was one of the last. In fact,
the only major industry on the center's list still giving disproportionately
to Republicans is the oil and gas sector.
So far, its donations for the 2010 election cycle are running 64 percent to
Republicans and 36 percent to Democrats.
That's a slight shift over the 2008 cycle, when the oil and gas industry
directed 77 percent of its $35 million in campaign cash to Republicans -
even though the GOP had already lost its congressional majorities.
The industry's tilted giving undoubtedly made it all the easier for Senate
Democrats last May to organize a hearing on rising gasoline prices that
featured five special guests: the top CEOs of the largest oil companies.
After swearing them in, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy
(D-Vt.) set off a verbal lashing with his stinging opening question: How
much money did you make last year?
Three of the executives said they earned somewhere in the millions. The
other two essentially took the Fifth, claiming not to know their personal
The disastrous hearing shed harsh light on the industry's urgent need to
adjust its political posture.
The month after the Senate flogging, Red Cavaney, a 65-year-old lobbying
icon, announced his retirement as president of the American Petroleum
In November, Gerard took over and soon began installing modern grass-roots
organizing tools, tapping the industry's deep employment rolls for better
ambassadors and building coalitions with 15 labor unions and other
organizations that could tell the oil and gas story to lawmakers the old
team couldn't reach.
"We were a little cautious in the way we did our politics," Gerard said in
an interview with POLITICO. "For too long, the industry assumed the public
understood us and appreciated what we did. What we've learned is that the
public probably doesn't understand or appreciate us as much as we'd like
them to."
The industry and its supporting businesses employ about 6 million people, he
said, many earning well above minimum wage. That's a fact that should
resonate on Capitol Hill, he argued, given the rising unemployment rates.
It's also an industry that affects all aspects of the nation's diverse
economy, from gasoline and diesel for cars and trucks to home heating oil
and fuel for manufacturing and farming.
To tell that broader story, Gerard is augmenting his professional lobbying
operation with fly-ins of some of the industry's rank-and-file workers.
A few weeks ago, female employees of oil and gas companies had breakfast on
Capitol Hill with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and a handful of her Senate
Last week, about 40 African-American engineers, finance experts and lawyers
from the industry came to town and "started opening doors where we haven't
been for a while," Gerard said. Katrina Rene, a Conoco-Phillips tax attorney
from Houston, was one of them.
She met with Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.)
and senior aides to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel
(D-N.Y.). "The whole purpose was to show them other faces and people who
work within the industry," Rene said. "It's not just our CEOs; it's regular
people, like us."
The next round of industry fly-ins will feature Hispanic employees. Of
course, the campaign isn't just about diversifying Big Oil's image. It's
also about policy. The Petroleum Institute opposes the House version of
climate change legislation passed last month and is urging the Senate to
make some amendments to it.
Among the changes it seeks are access to more land for drilling and a cut of
the pollution credits that the House gave away to industries under pressure
from global competition. "It discriminates against the U.S. refining
industry," Gerard said. "We would be subjected to the foreign competition
pressures without any buffer."
Rene said she delivered those messages in her Capitol Hill meetings. "I
think, in some instances, there really was an opportunity to educate
people," she said.
To rally grass-roots opposition to the House measure, the institute has
launched a multimillion-dollar television, radio and newspaper ad campaign
that will run in key states during the August congressional break. Gerard is
also organizing his new army of employee-lobbyists and newfound allies to
meet with House and Senate members back in their home offices.
Asked about the industry's political giving, Gerard dodged, saying that was
up to individual companies. "You start one step at a time," he said. "You
gotta walk before you run."
While money may not be a major issue for Gerard, timing could be. The House
approved its climate legislation, which the Senate intends to use as a
foundation for its bill, before the Petroleum Institute's lobbying push got
off the ground.
"You gotta start somewhere," Gerard said. "We won't know if it was too late
until later. I think we're getting on the field quickly and in an aggressive
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