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The Politic$ of Sen. Coburn’s Anti-Ethanol Efforts

June 10, 2011


For those that thought the influence of Big Oil on Capitol Hill might have waned in the aftermath of the BP oil spill...think again.  For proof, one need not look any further than the efforts of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and 15 of his Senate colleagues to end investment in America's ethanol industry.  From 2005-2010, this Gang of 16 received more than $4 million in political contributions from the oil and gas industry.  For his part, Sen. Coburn took in nearly $250,000. The detailed list of contributions (to both candidate campaigns and leadership PACS) is below, courtesy of
  • Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)                    $223,000
  • Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)                  $98,000 (Sen. McCain has his own anti-ethanol amendment as well.  Running for president he took in $2.4 million)
  • Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)                  $233,000
  • Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)                   $539,000
  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)                  $128,000
  • Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA)                 $88,000
  • Sen. James Risch (R-ID)                   $83,000
  • Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)                 $460,000
  • Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)                    $285,000
  • Sen. Mike Enzi R-WY)                       $125,000
  • Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)              $120,000
  • Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)               $179,000
  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)                  $1,100,000
  • Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)            $156,000
  • Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)                 $105,000
  • Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)                  $245,000
These contributions are not in and of themselves a surprise.  Money and politics go hand in hand.  But they do help illustrate the point that this effort has more to do with oil-patch politics than it does national energy security and responsible fiscal policy.  If this were a true effort to reign in federal energy subsidies, than the tens of billions of dollars given to mature energy industries like petroleum would be included in this amendment.  Those taxpayer handouts are conspicuously absent. This kind of political gamesmanship comes with consequences.  As RFA President Bob Dinneen noted in his statement on the amendment, ""This is the same kind of political gamesmanship that nations like Iran and Venezuela are exercising to keep consumer energy prices artificially high and Americans addicted to oil.  As few observers give this bill any chance of getting to the president's desk, Sen. Coburn's efforts are yet another example of oil-patch politics trumping sound national energy policy.  We encourage Sen. Coburn to lay down his arms and work with the ethanol industry to craft thoughtful and fiscally responsible legislation that allows for continued innovation and growth of domestic biofuel production and use without pushing the industry off a cliff." Some background on the amendment:  Sen. Coburn pulled a bait and switch to get a vote on his anti-ethanol agenda.  Late Thursday night, Sen. Coburn swapped this amendment which would end the ethanol tax credit known as VEETC immediately with one he had previously filed on greenhouse gases.  He then immediately filed for cloture.  Filing for cloture is usually a process reserved for party leadership after agreements on what bill and amendments will be considered.  It is an effort of political grandstanding not seen on the floor of the Senate in sometime. The cloture vote is scheduled for Tuesday.  No doubt this story has more twists and turns in store.  Stay tuned.