Charleston Post and Courier
January 21, 2018
By Bo Petersen
The two highest profile congressional champions of drilling for oil off of South Carolina collectively have taken in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign money from the industry in the past few years.
But the industry has also spread its contributions around, and some analysts say the money is spent more to support candidates who back the collective wants of big oil and gas rather than to sway them on this one issue.
From 2011 to 2016, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., received $491,076 from oil and natural gas companies, individuals tied to the industry and related political action committees, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of Laurens in the Upstate received $92,100 from 2013 to 2016.
In contrast, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Mount Pleasant, who has vocally opposed the offshore work, took in $21,350 from the industry, according to center records.
Democrat U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, another offshore drilling opponent, received $24,180.
The amounts are not huge in terms of the overall campaign money raised. Scott, for instance, raised more than $12.7 million from 2011 to 2016.
The contributions are only a small share of how much the oil and gas industry contributes overall. The industry put more than $170 million into the two election cycles.
During the 2016 presidential race, now-President Donald Trump — who recently reopened the offshore leasing process — and then-candidate Hillary Clinton received roughly even shares of $1.95 million. Trump received $992,137; Clinton $967,631, according to the center.
The center is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research group tracking money in all sectors of U.S. politics, according to its website.
According to the center, oil and gas contributions to other South Carolina delegation members total:
- $256,850 to Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (from 2009 to 2016)
- $46,400 to Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy (2103 to 2016)
- $32,000 to Republican Rep. Joe Wilson (2013 to 12016)
- $26,250 to Republican Rep. Tom Rice (2013 to 2016)
Republican Rep. Ralph Norman, who was elected in a special 2017 vote, received $16,400.
Scott’s staff said the contributions were not a conflict for him.
“As he has stated multiple times, Senator Scott believes it is essential to build more support from coastal communities before moving forward with offshore energy exploration,” said spokeswoman Michele Exner.
“He will continue working with folks to share why he believes offshore energy exploration is important — tens of thousands of jobs and billions in economic investment alongside some of the strongest safety regulations in the world — but will not move forward without coastal support,” she said.
Neither Duncan nor his staff returned two emails or a phone call asking for comment. In January, when Trump announced he would review the leasing policy with an eye toward reopening it, Duncan called it “tremendous news for American energy independence, economic development, and job creation.”
Sanford said his anti-exploration views likely have cost him some contributions.
“There are no free lunches in life, or in the political process,” he said. “Speaking as I have (opposing the offshore work) has had a degree of consequence. That’s the way the cookie crumbles in the world of politics.”
The industry and conservation opponents have fought for more than five years over opening the Southeast coast to exploration after the federal government restarted the five-year leasing process for the years 2017 to 2022. Then-President Barack Obama closed the waters in 2016, but Trump restarted the process for the years 2019 to 2023.
From the beginning, the industry has attempted to influence the leasing process. Then-Gov. Nikki Haley was part of a coalition of governors who worked behind the scenes, largely in private, with industry lobbyists to open the Southeast coast to oil and natural gas testing and drilling, according to the Institute for Southern Studies in 2015.
During her two gubernatorial campaigns, Haley received 88 contributions from the oil and gas industry worth a combined $118,331, according to data compiled by the Montana-based National Institute on Money in State Politics. The governor raised about $12.4 million over two campaigns.
Haley, in a statement from staff at the time, championed her work with the coalition as critical, responsible economic development.
Haley, appointed by Trump, is now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Analysts said the contributions aren’t usually a case of direct influence buying. Great bulks of the money went to politicians long before Trump was considered a potentially successful candidate with an eye on expanding offshore exploration.
“It is wrong to think that lobbyists ‘buy votes’ in Congress. Rather, they tend to support lawmakers who already support their position,” said Jordon Ragusa, College of Charleston political science professor.
“Lobbying is effective, just not in the way most Americans think. An interest group’s most powerful tool is information about policy, not campaign contributions. Lobbyists play a key role in the drafting of legislation given how much they know about the intricacies of public policy,” Ragusa said.