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The Drill Ticket

How Big Oil dominates Republican Party especially in Sarah Palin’s Alaska

What’s surprising about Alaska politics is just how little of the oil companies’ money it took to make the whole political system into a very corrupt place.

Alaskan oilfields pump 750,000 barrels a day. This production is the overwhelming fact of Alaska’s economy, and thus of its politics.

Usually, it’s hard to draw a direct connection between campaign money and specific policy issues. Not in Alaska, where $7.6 billion of the estimated $8.5 billion in Alaska’s state tax revenue comes from fees paid by oil companies.

Consider for a moment if our state had a single industry that provided more than 89 percent of all the revenue to fund government services. No wonder Alaska’s governor say it’s God’s will that we drill.

But first, the corruption issue. The bright connection is a now-defunct construction and oil-services company called Veco and its convicted former chairman, William Allen. Veco and its executives donated money to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, but not very much. Over the past several years, Veco spread about $400,000 around in Alaska political circles, staining an already tainted legislature where Big Oil rules. Several state legislators have been indicted and some convicted.

Alaska’s senior US Senator Ted Stevens was indicted, too. According to Michael Barone’s Almanac of American Politics, Stevens was one of the prime movers in getting the huge Trans-Alaska oil pipeline built from the North Slope all the way down to the Pacific Coast in the early 1970s. (Valdez is the port that is the terminus of that pipeline; America knows the name of that town through the Exxon Valdez, whose pilot got drunk and spilled all that Alaska crude oil into Prince William Sound.)

So it is that Big Oil rules Alaska—an enormous land mass with a tiny population of only 630,000, which is only two-thirds the number of people in Erie County.

All that money makes public services in Alaska very cheap, and the oil industry very popular. According to published reports, public opinion in Alaska strongly favors drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve. Alaska public opinion generally favors exploitation of every natural resource. Though Alaska’s workforce of a little over 300,000 contains only about 15,000 oil-industry workers, the majority of voters there like the idea of more drilling.

Earlier this decade, a person named Sarah Palin, who is married to a sometime oil-worker, was commissioner of natural resources in Alaska. In other words, she was in charge of Alaska’s Office of Oil Affairs.

Now that she is the marquee candidate for vice president, Governor Sarah Palin is front-page news and the front-and-center story for everybody who wants to discuss teenage pregnancy, out-of-wedlock births, Down syndrome and the breathtaking pivot of the Religious Right—which until recently (about three weeks ago, to be exact) frowned upon and fulminated about sex education and out-of-wedlock births.

One cannot help but observe, however, that the longer we discuss Sarah Palin’s uterus, the more likely it is that American politics will remain distracted from the central issue of this election: whether the lords of oil will continue to control the United States as surely as they control Alaska.

Big Oil in American politics

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C. watchdog group, oil companies and the people who run them give between 75 percent and 80 percent of their campaign money to Republicans. It’s big money, too: So far in 2008, oil interests have invested almost $20 million in the major parties.

Senator John McCain has received $1.4 million in 2008 from oil-related political action committees (PACs) and individuals. McCain has been the top recipient, more than double Rudy Giuliani’s $642,758, and almost three times as much as Mitt Romney, who got $476,594

Hillary Clinton got $400,419. Barack Obama got $398,765.

Here’s another way of reading the numbers. The Republican policy is an enthusiastic salute to the oil industry’s program of drilling wherever oil is cheap to extract. The Democratic response is, comparatively speaking, tepid, but getting warmer. Obama recently moderated his previously hostile position on offshore drilling. (It’s hard to understand why, given the existence of many oil wells offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, any American politician would hold fast to an anti-drilling position unless, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one’s constituents had experienced an oil-spill disaster.)

Palin believes God believes in drilling

According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics (, Sarah Palin’s candidacy for governor in 2006 rested on substantial contributions from energy and natural resources interests. They formed the largest sums in her war chest, but the amounts are unimpressive because Alaska is a pretty small place. Her entire campaign fund was well under $1 million—less than a candidate for Erie County executive in the last four elections.

But the Palin connection to Big Oil is not just about campaign contributions. According to the Wall Street Journal and other reputable news organizations, Alaska’s governor said in June that “the war in Iraq is part of God’s plan.”

In a video you can watch on the Huffington Post (taken from a post on the website of her former church, the Wasilla Assembly of God), Governor Palin said that using public funds to build a $30 billion cross-Alaska natural-gas pipeline is also “part of God’s will.” (link)

Sarah Palin favors drilling for new oil supplies. Sarah Palin and her running mate John McCain are very, very aggressive and forthright in their advocacy of offshore drilling and drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and they are very forthright about increasing the overall supply of oil from domestic sources.

In his book Bad Money and in several previous books as well, historian Kevin Phillips describes a deep-rooted connection between the Republican Party, the Christian Right, Big Oil, and an American foreign policy that has been petro-centric for decades. Phillips sees the Big Oil connection with George W. Bush—whose secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is the only sitting Cabinet official after whom an oil tanker ship is named—as the framework within which to see the Iraq War and the relationship between the White House and the House of Saud.

It’s all right there for American voters to see.

So why does this election seem to have become centered on Sarah Palin’s uterus? Let us begin, as the poet Dylan Thomas said, at the beginning: This election is about oil.

Bruce Fisher is Buffalo State College visiting professor of Economics and Finance, where he directs the Center for Economic and Policy Studies.

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