Gulf disaster a boon to Washington lobbying

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When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in April it created an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and a gusher for the economy of Washington, where the business of lobbying, public relations and the law is the dominant industry.

Lobbying expenditure reports for the first reporting period after the April 20 blowout show that offshore drilling companies and environmental groups ramped up their spending to make their case to lawmakers and regulators on a range of energy-related issues.

Transocean Ltd., which owned and operated the rig and leased it to BP, had not spent a dime on lobbying before the explosion, according to federal records.

Less than three weeks after the spill, the company signed on with Capitol Hill Consulting Group, paying $110,000 to lobby lawmakers on offshore drilling, oil and gas exploration, mobile drilling units and energy legislation, according to a July 14 filing.

Since the disaster, Transocean has also spent in the seven figures hiring lawyers, media and other consultants who are not lobbyists, according to one person familiar with the company’s Washington operations.

The American Petroleum Institute, the chief advocacy group for the oil industry, nearly doubled its lobbying budget in the three months after the explosion, spending more than $2.3 million since March, according to a report filed Monday. The organization reported that it focused on dozens of pieces of new legislation and regulatory rules.

The industry is particularly concerned about the Interior Department moratorium on deep-water drilling. The American Petroleum Institute reported on its lobbying forms that it is also monitoring legislation with titles like “End Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act of 2010” and the proposed “No New Drilling Act.”

The institute response is typical for industries under scrutiny in Washington, said Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics, which is still calculating the massive increase in lobbying and campaign contributions that followed the explosion. Many hire former members of Congress and former top executive branch officials to lobby. Others come to Washington and begin massive spending, even if they never did so before.

BP, which contracted with Transocean to drill the well, already had a stout lobbying presence in Washington before the explosion, relying on longstanding contracts with established Washington institutions such as the Duberstein Group, a lobbying firm led by Ken Duberstein, a former aide to President Reagan, and Michael Berman, a former aide to Vice President Walter Mondale. In addition, BP continues to use its contracts with Ogilvy PR Worldwide and Mindshare, a digital media firm.

But it has ramped up exponentially since, hiring lawyers, crisis communications consultants and other public relations firms.

BP has also hired Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration, and her law firm, WilmerHale, to represent the company in congressional and other federal investigations.

BP is finalizing a contract with James Lee Witt, who directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the Clinton administration.

The explosion and its aftermath also inspired a flurry of lobbying from shallow-water oil drillers who formed a new coalition to convince lawmakers and Interior Department officials that the drilling they do is safer than deep-water operations, which face a moratorium.

The shallow-water drillers are represented by a group of Washington powerhouse firms including the Livingston Group, led by former Rep. Bob Livingston; Sabiston Consultants, led by a former top aide to Sen. Mary L. Landrieu; and the law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani, a bipartisan firm that includes former members of Congress and former Interior Department officials.

Environmental advocacy groups have also increased their lobbying expenditures now that lawmakers have turned their attention to long-awaited climate legislation.

The Environmental Defense Fund and its lobbying arm spent $670,000 during the second quarter, up from $522,000 during the first quarter of the year. The Wilderness Society spent $99,000 on lobbying during the second quarter, compared with $61,000 during the first quarter.

“The spending certainly reflects the all-hands-on-deck situation we have found ourselves in terms of working on oil spill response legislation as well as climate and energy,” said Melinda Pierce, the lead lobbyist for the Sierra Club, which nearly doubled its spending on lobbying in the reporting period after the spill.