The Republican leaders of the House and Senate energy committees have shuttered a controversial joint fundraising committee that let them vacuum in fossil fuel industry cash as they oversaw the federal government fossil fuel policy.
The move by Michigan Rep. Fred Upton and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski — which was documented in recent federal campaign finance filings — followed an International Business Times report on how the committee received big donations from officials of a major pipeline company just as their committees were crafting legislation aimed at speeding up pipeline development throughout the country. Upton pushed the bill, despite his own congressional district in 2010 being ravaged by one of the biggest pipeline leaks in the last 20 years.
In response to IBT’s reporting, the fundraising committee — which allows donors to deliver big contributions that are then automatically divvied up between the two lawmakers — drew concern from ethics experts who raised alarms about its purpose. They asserted the fundraising committee seemed designed to bring in campaign donations from the energy interests that the lawmakers’ congressional panels oversee. Upton’s congressional opponent, Democrat Paul Clements, criticized him over the arrangement, calling it “a clear conflict of interest “and “a clear sign of the corrupting influence of money in politics.”
The quiet announcement of the fundraising committee’s termination was made in federal campaign finance filings earlier this year. Those documents show that the committee raised more than $180,000 in 2015 — the vast majority of which came from donors in the oil and gas industry, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The campaign finance reports show the final $21,600 worth of donations to the committee came from the chairman of oil and gas firm Pioneer Natural Resources and his wife.
As the fundraising committee raked in such donations, the House and Senate passed legislation to lift a 40-year old ban on oil exports — a priority for both Upton and Murkowski that was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The House also passed a bill to expedite the approval of natural gas pipelines — a bill that sailed through Upton’s committee.