US primaries: Candidates have their say. Oil donors, reluctant
- Written by Victor Lupu
The US primaries are ongoing and uncertainties are still dominating, although on both sides there are favourites for the nomination. In the Republican camp Donald Trump had achieved, at the end of March, beginning of April, 736 delegates, 501 short of the 1,237 needed to get the nomination. Ted Cruz had 463 and John Kasich had 143. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton had 1,712 delegates, 671 short of the 2,383 needed. Her count includes 489 superdelegates. Challenger Bernie Sanders had 1,011 delegates, with 31 coming from superdelegates.
Nevertheless, there were troubled waters in both camps. Let’s take a look at the main contenders.
Tough retorts were noticed lately between Clinton and Sanders on oil and gas donations, more is expected to come. On the other side, Donald Trump has already troubled the US politics with statements that made many wonder how seriously he should be counted for.
One of the most dramatic was his intention to stop purchasing Saudi oil unless the Saudis send ground troops to fight the Islamic State, a pledge which has sparked reactions in the Gulf States. Trump says the US spends too much in protecting other countries. “We lose, everywhere. We lose monetarily, everywhere. And yet, without us, Saudi Arabia wouldn’t exist for very long,” Trump said in an interview. “It would be, you know, a catastrophic failure without our protection.”
Trump also suggests his way of destroying the IS is to destroy the group’s access to oil, and that the US should have swiped Iraq’s oil while occupying the country. “Now we have to destroy the oil,” Trump said.
More troubling statements have brought the US politics to the boiling point, some say. Donald Trump suggested using economic warfare to halt China’s territorial moves in the South China Sea, said the US should consider letting South Korea and Japan acquire their own atomic arsenal. More astonishing, he said NATO is an anachronism and that he would renegotiate the free trade deals.
The oil industry is traditionally on the Republican side. Nevertheless, now some of the oil representatives are puzzled. Trump’s ideas about energy policy are too loose, or even contradictory. Trump told corn growers he will promote ethanol, while oil refiners say the plant-based biofuel drives up their costs. He assures sportsmen that he will protect the federal lands where they hunt and fish, raising worries among energy companies that he might block the oil and gas development. And while he supports approving Keystone (pipeline), the Canadian-backed effort to transport oil from Alberta to Texas, he wants to make money out of it. The oil industry is thus concerned about Trump’s unpredictability.
American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard, a former George W. Bush campaign fundraiser, said recently he doesn’t know whom he will vote for in November. “It’s probably premature for me to judge.” He claims Trump hasn’t talked about energy in general, all he did is to use the issue to attack his rivals. And yet, Jack Gerard’s group gave about 80% of its campaign contributions to Republican candidates. Gerard has personally donated more than USD 75,000 to candidates in the past decade, nearly all of them went to the Republican side.
Other sources say they hesitate between Trump and Clinton, as the latter promises to crack down on oil and gas pollution while Trump has accused Republican rival Ted Cruz of being ‘totally controlled by the oil companies.’ Even more, some oil representatives consider Clinton may win in November, while the Republicans should try a comeback four years later. “It might be better to have four years of Clinton and try again in 2020,” Republican energy lobbyist Mike McKenna said. In his turn, Stephen Brown, a vice president at the refining company Tesoro, said it depends “which risky bet you are willing to take.”
However, this doesn’t mean oil industry backs Hillary Clinton. She explicitly called for a ban on offshore drilling outside the Gulf of Mexico and for regulating drilling so strictly that there will not ‘be many places in America where fracking will continue’ - although she didn’t promise an all-out fracking ban, as Bernie Sanders did during the campaign. The stance is a switch from her position as secretary of state, sources say, when she promoted fracking in foreign countries and she said the administration was ‘inclined’ to approve the Keystone pipeline from Canada. And yet, some say she might temperate her position if she secures the Democratic nomination. After all, they say, Barack Obama opposed fracking and now he is for fracking.
Hillary Clinton is under fire from environmental organisations for allegedly accepting money from employees at oil and gas companies, although in the 2008 presidential campaign she disapproved with the then Senator Barack Obama for doing the same. Activists asked her to reject fossil fuel money and not to accept donations from the oil and gas industry. Clinton’s spokesman said the candidate “has not taken a dollar from oil and gas industry PACs or corporations.” Clinton’s campaign, in fact, has not received any money directly from oil and gas companies, as that would violate election law, he said.
According to CNN, quoting the Center for Responsive Politics, both Clinton and Obama accepted money from executives and employees of oil companies during the 2008 campaign. Obama accepted USD 222,309 and Clinton accepted USD 309,363, according to the watchdog.
In 2016 campaign Clinton has taken more than USD 300,000 from people who work for those companies, according to Greenpeace, while Bernie Sander has taken upwards of USD 50,000 from the same individuals.
However, it seems most oil representatives are not on Clinton’s side. As said, they are concerned about her recent statements on drilling and fracking.
A close ally to the fuel producers said any Republican would be better than a Democratic president. Either Clinton or Sanders would preside over significant job losses in drilling and mining and we just can’t allow that to happen, he said. Others, although stunned by Trump, say he would get an education on priorities and would get in the right direction.
Let’s not get fooled by public statements, most of the runners have received money from oil industry related donors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, they preferred Ted Cruz, who has received more than USD 800,000 in direct donations from oil and gas interests. He is followed by Hillary Clinton with USD 250,000 directly from donors linked to the industry, and by John Kasich, who has received about USD 100,000. In fact, according to politico.com, six of the top 10 oil-producing states have voted so far, and Cruz has won five of them: Texas, Alaska, Oklahoma, Kansas and Wyoming.
The US Federal Election Commission has delivered statistics as to the percent of candidates’ Super Pac money coming from fossil fuel millionaires: Ted Cruz - 57%; Chris Christie - 39%; Jeb Bush - 26%; Marco Rubio - 23% and Hillary Clinton - 7%.
It seems though the oil industry is highly involved in the US preliminaries and will be for November elections. On a troubled international oil market, their games could be decisive beyond America’s borders.