Big Oil's Big Lobby Dollars


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The word "lobbying" makes the majority of Americans cringe, or roll their eyes, or just sadly shake their heads. It's a game that champions for good causes play, but by and large we equate lobbying with rich, terrible companies having their way at the expense of those less fortunate.

As investors, however, we're taught to check our emotions at the door, so today we're taking a dispassionate look at lobbying in the oil industry. Using filings from the Senate's Lobbying Disclosure Act database, we'll review the top spenders, move through some industry issues, and finish up with a reminder on why investors should care about lobbying at all.

Dollars for bills
After the first quarter, ExxonMobil led all energy companies in lobbying dollars spent, and it ranked eighth among all companies and organizations across all industries. With another quarter of spending under our belts, Exxon remains tops among energy companies, but it has fallen to 12th place on the overall list. Here are the exact dollar amounts for the company, followed by the other top spenders in the oil industry through the first two quarters of the year:

  • ExxonMobil: $7.90 million

  • Koch Industries: $5.83 million

  • Chevron : $5.50 million

  • American Petroleum Institute:$ 4.19 million

  • Occidental Petroleum : $3.77 million

  • BP : $3.68 million

  • ConocoPhillips: $1.97 million

Exxon is far and away the biggest spender here, but what's more important than the big dollars is where those big dollars go.

Where's the money?
Collectively, the oil and gas industry has spent more than $71 million lobbying some branch of the U.S. government this year. Each lobbying initiative, be it supporting or fighting a specific bill or policy, falls under a three-letter code representing a larger issue group. For example, ENG represents every issue falling under the designation of energy and nuclear power. TAX represents taxation issues, ENV is for environmental issues, and so on.

Here are some of the specific issues represented by those codes that are attracting the big bucks:

  • Taxes (TAX): ExxonMobil filed 16 reports on tax issues alone, making it the company's top issue by number of reports filed. Examples of its tax issues include "HR 259: Energy Freedom and Economic Prosperity Act; provisions related to revenue and funding," and "Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act; provisions related to revenue and funding."

  • Energy and Nuclear Power (ENG): Chevron's top issue falls under this giant umbrella. The company filed 10 reports targeting issues such as "Oil Spill Liability and Trust Fund," and "E10+ Blend Wall, ethanol liability protection, co-processing of renewable fuels."

  • Marine, Boats, and Fisheries (MAR): This is a bit of an obscure issue group, but it's no surprise to see Royal Dutch Shell show up here. The company filed four reports focusing on three issues falling under this designation, including "Maritime shipping and transport issues related to Alaska offshore energy development," and "NOAA-NMFS Supplemental Draft EIS for Arctic Activities."

Naturally, this is far from a complete list. When it comes down to it, there is an awful lot going on behind the scenes at these businesses, and lobbying disclosures give us great insight into many of the issues oil companies are facing.

Bottom line
It's always worth examining the LDA forms your company files to see what's going on behind the scenes. ExxonMobil doesn't make a mention of lobbying in its 10-K filing, nor does Chevron, or Occidental. BP and Royal Dutch Shell leave it out of their 20-F filings as well.

As a result, investors are clueless, until they turn to this database. Flipping through these filings once every quarter or so can give you insight into the issues management thinks is necessary to shower in millions of dollars. Money talks, and if the LDA forms don't match up with what management has been preaching, you know there's a problem.

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