Paying to Play with Oil

Posted on September 20, 2016 by



Corporations have played a major role in financing elections and often times it is unclear the precise influence they have on the candidate they grant money to.  Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest corporate money is substantially influencing our political system.  Among those large corporate contributors is the fossil fuel industry imparting generous donations to each side of the political aisle in the 2016 election.  The contributions from these industries is not a surprise, however the candidate receiving the majority of their donations is unorthodox.    The Wall Street Journal recently reported that although oil and gas executives usually donate to Republican candidates, Hillary Clinton is receiving the majority of their money this year.  The report noted that,

“Taken together, oil and gas donors have contributed roughly twice as much to support Mrs. Clinton’s campaign as Mr. Trump’s. Election rules bar corporations from giving directly to candidates, but donations from an industry’s employees can provide a reflection of where it stands.”

Clinton has denied claims that these donations will have any influence on her decisions as President.  When challenged about her acceptance of these contributions recently by an environmental activist at a rally Clinton stressed that election law forbids candidates from taking money directly from corporations and comes from supportive individuals.  Looking at her past however indicates that individuals can also be lobbyists from a corporation with a specific agenda.  For example, as Secretary of State she signed off on the Enbridge pipeline after receiving a substantial amount of money into her campaign directly from lobbyists.  Although her intent for signing the pipeline cannot be known definitively, oil and gas corporations who have supported her in the past continue to do so.  This raises the question of why these lobbyists would continue to support Clinton if they did not believe they would somehow benefit from her presidency.

This idea of pay to play has been an ongoing area of contention for Clinton as she runs her campaign.  From receiving large donations from the Saudi Regime and other states directly into the Clinton Foundation to her connections with Wall Street.  The fossil fuel industry is also contributing to the cause and may expect Clinton to act as she has in the past.  She is a well-seasoned politician who has many connections with corporations and private individuals all the while building strong relationships with them.   It is not far-fetched to predict she will not act any differently if she gets into office.  If previous instances suggest sending a donation to either the Clinton Foundation or to her presidential campaign results in certain favors donations are likely to continue.   In response to these claims of pay to play Glen Greenwald remarks that,

“the primary defense of Democrats, which is, “Look, there is no proof of a quid pro quo. Yes, Hillary Clinton did things that benefited these donors, but you can’t prove that the reason she did them is because—the Clinton Foundation got this money or her husband got this money,” this is an absurd standard. That has been the Republican argument for many years. Of course you can’t prove a quid pro quo, because you can’t get into the mind of somebody and show their motives.”

It is difficult to prove claims of intention and yet reviewing Clinton’s relationship with the fossil fuel industry in the past suggests an uneasy relationship.  Despite these large donations from fossil fuel and her history of support for these industries, Clinton campaigns on an agenda that is supportive of renewable energy technologies.  Moreover, she has said she wishes to initiate  policies such as the Clean Power Plan, wants to build on the Paris Agreement and has many other initiatives in favor of renewable energy.  She was quoted in 2015 saying ,

“I won’t let anyone take us backward, deny our economy the benefits of harnessing a clean energy future, or force our children to endure the catastrophe that would result from unchecked climate change.”


Her moves towards environmentally friendly policy is a reflection of the desires of many in the democratic party and an appeal to progressive voters.  Whether or not she will be able to convince certain subsets of her target demographic is questionable given her inconsistent record concerning the environment.

Even if Clinton is able to implement many of the policies she has suggested throughout her presidency, the cronyism she has engaged in for her entire career is unlikely to disappear post-election.  Solar panels may be installed and the Paris Agreement may continue but pipelines and oil rigs could also be built in the process potentially causing water contamination and eco-systemic destruction.  Corporate donations from the fossil fuel industry pose a threat not only to the democratic process, but also to important natural resources.  Although it is difficult to prove a direct causation between money contributions and political action, if the past is any indication of Clinton’s actions environmental progress will prove to be slow.

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