The KayBaileysaurus


Dinosaurios, they call them in Mexico. Old-school pols who sell their votes to special interests while they celebrate the corrupt old system that allows them to sell their votes to special interests. Were she a político mexicano, Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison would be described as a dinosaurio.

In the Mexican system she would face a difficult choice. She could follow her heart into the Catholic right-wing Partido de Acción Nacional – which carries the standard of the Virgin de Guadalupe, drapes itself in the blue and white universally associated with Mary the Mother of Christ, and wishes to privatize everything from the oil reserves in the Gulf of Campeche to the foul air Chilangos breathe in the nation’s capital. Or she could follow the money – into the established PRI, the Partido de Revolución Institucional.

Senadora Hutchison’s Big Oil deal suggests she would end up a PRIista, more inclined toward power and money than reform. In the final week of September, she mustered enough votes to end a Senate filibuster and pass a rider that would stop the Department of the Interior from collecting full royalties from big oil companies drilling on public land.

Small companies pay royalties on the market price of crude. Big companies – Shell, Exxon, Chevron – “sell” their crude to their own refineries – at prices $4 to $5 per barrel lower than market. That lowers their royalty rate and saves them millions.

What’s this all about?

Wisconsin Senator Russell Feingold was getting close, when he started talking about campaign contributions. “In the last Presidential campaign, in 1996, the parties raised $262 million in soft money, three times as much as in the 1992 election cycle. The experts project we will see perhaps as much as $500 million or even $600 million in this next election, and about 65 percent of the money is coming from corporate treasuries…. We have to realize that what is before us is not simply an amendment. It is an amendment supported by interests that have been involved in an immense infusion of corporate cash….

“Exxon gave more than $230,000 in soft money and more than $480,000 in PAC money; Chevron gave more than $425,000 in soft money and more than $330,000 in PAC money; Atlantic Richfield gave more than $525,000 in soft money and $150,000 in PAC money; BP Oil and Amoco, two oil companies that have merged into the newly formed petroleum giant, BP Amoco, gave a combined total of more than $480,000 in soft money and $295,000 in PAC money.… That is more than $2.9 million just from four corporations in the span of only two years.”

Hutchison’s amendment didn’t cost the federal treasury big dollars. The tab on her previous royalty riders is $88 million. This year’s rider will only cost the public $66 million, a small part of the total federal appropriations of $600 billion. Yet enough this year, California Senator Barbara Boxer argued, “to hire 1,000 school teachers, or put 44,000 new computers into the classroom, or buy textbooks for 1.2 million students, or provide 53 million hot lunches for schoolchildren.”

There is an underlying issue. If Congress can compel oil companies to pay their fair share, what’s to stop it from requiring mining interests working on federal land to pay more than $5 per acre to mine gold – which some companies pay under the century-old law that governs their operations? What would stop Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt from again trying to charge ranchers grazing their herds on federal land something closer to fair market grazing lease rates?

There is some big money for Kay Bailey. The Senator has taken in $1.2 million in political contributions from the oil industry in the past five years. That didn’t make it into the Congressional Record. Shortly after Feingold steered the debate toward campaign contributions, he was ruled out of order by the Chair, who declared campaign finance was “not germane” in a debate about oil royalties.

The Chair must have been right when it ruled the oil rebate issue had noting to do with campaign finance. After all, it was John McCain – co-sponsor of Feingold’s campaign finance legislation – who cast the sixtieth vote required to end the filibuster and protect the oil subsidy. “It was a victory for America,” Hutchison said.