How ExxonMobil became a finance arm of the Republican Party.
In late February, President Obama proposed, not for the first time, that Congress end four billion dollars’ worth of subsidies for oil and gas companies. He seemed to be signalling that he will be running for President this year, as he did four years ago, in open opposition to the American oil industry. The President’s policies toward the oil industry are not easy to categorize. His actions—attacking oil-company profits while proposing more oil drilling—can best be understood as political responses to rising gasoline prices. The contest between the Democrats and Big Oil this year will be reciprocal, and the other side will be led by ExxonMobil, by far the largest and most profitable oil corporation headquartered in the U.S. In recent election cycles, the corporation has directed more of its political-action-committee spending to Republicans than any other of the largest American public corporations. The evolution of the country’s biggest and most powerful oil company into a finance arm of the Republican Party is a story of both energy economics and style. ExxonMobil has developed an algorithmic formula for political spending and lobbying that has reinforced its alignment with Republican candidates. Exxon’s annual revenues, of four hundred billion dollars, are about the same as the GDP of Norway. During the past decade, as global oil prices have risen, ExxonMobil’s profits have smashed all American records. The company’s headquarters are in Irving, Texas. Its Washington office is in a pink granite-and-concrete building on K Street.
During both the Bush and Obama Administrations, ExxonMobil has focused its PAC donations on Republican legislators who can try to assure that no damaging laws go through. The corporation has a notoriously bad reputation on climate issues. ExxonMobil’s initial response to Obama’s ascendancy was to engage with Democrats and search for common ground on climate policy. But the corporation was constrained by the fact that most of its Democratic Party connections were tied to the failing Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.
During the first three years of Obama’s Presidency, the corporation spent more than fifty-two million dollars on lobbying in Washington, about fifty per cent more than during the Bush Presidency.
When Republicans took back the House in the 2010 midterm elections, ExxonMobil’s lobbyists no longer had reason to fear that Obama or congressional Democrats could upend their industry with climate or tax laws. All of the corporation’s business strategies remain oriented toward the very long run. Decades from now, oil, gas, and coal, ExxonMobil’s analysts predicted, “will continue to be the most widely used fuels.” Steve Coll, the New Yorker