Study: Campaign bucks oil policy wheels

By Steve Terrell: The New Mexican

Political contributions from the oil and gas industry might translate into friendly legislation for that industry, according to a new study by Common Cause New Mexico.

The report, titled “Connecting the Dots: The Oil and Gas Industry’s Influence on New Mexico Politics,” says oil and gas interests have contributed more than $5.3 million to candidates for state office between 1998 and 2008.

“This report’s findings suggest that oil and gas political contributions often correlate to state policy making that is beneficial to the industry,” the report said.

But Rep. William Gray, R-Artesia, who received nearly $50,000 from oil and gas when he first ran for office in 2006, said Thursday he was pro-oil long before he received a single campaign contribution and he votes to benefit his community.

Oil and gas is a major source of revenue for the state.

“Between 2002 and 2007, various taxes and charges directed over $10 billion of oil and gas revenue to an array of state funds and institutions,” the Common Cause study said. The industry provides 15 to 21 percent of General Fund revenues.

Last year, the oil and gas industry made political contributions of more than $1 million to New Mexico politicians, which was more than any other industry, amounting to more than 15 percent of total contributions in state races that year.

The single largest contributor from any industry was Lago LLC., an Albuquerque-based oil and gas investment company, with $250,000 in contributions to two Republican candidates in southern New Mexico. Five of the top 10 largest single contributors were oil and gas companies or their employees.

While Republicans got the lion’s share of oil money last year, that’s not always the case, the study notes.

“In 2006, for example, Gov. (Bill) Richardson received nearly $500,000, Lt. Governor Diane Denish received $95,950, and Attorney General Gary King received $138,799.” Total oil and gas contributions in 2006 were over $2 million.

The study looked at several votes in recent legislative sessions. On the average, legislators whose votes were considered industry-friendly received an average of 1.9 to 4.7 times more campaign contributions from oil and gas than those whose votes were considered industry-unfriendly.

“Oil and gas is an indispensable part of New Mexico’s economy — and will be for the foreseeable future,” the study says. “As such, legislators and regulators must continue to closely monitor the impact of regulations on the industry. .. Yet it is possible that (oil and gas’) economic contributions are influencing state policy-making processes in a manner that, while beneficial to the industry, might not be in the best interests of the state as a whole.”

Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com