From Open Secrets:
The Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to base its major decisions on science — good science. But what is good science and how do you decide it? Since 1978, the EPA has had a science advisory board tasked with helping answer those questions.
But, because this is Washington, nothing is ever that simple.
Last week, at the same time the Senate was embroiled in its own environmental debate over approval of the KeystoneXL pipeline project, the House passed H.R. 1422, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2014.
The vote went almost entirely along party lines, which is not unusual. But a look at the financial backing of the handful of members who crossed over on the vote is telling.
The bill redefines who can serve on the board and what they can do. Its supporters say it makes the body more transparent and less beholden to special interests. Opponents, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, say it does the opposite — by specifically allowing members to have financial interests in the decisions made, while at the same time prohibiting scientists on the board from making decisions on matters that directly or indirectly involve review of any research they’ve done personally.
It’s clear from lobbying reports that certain industries took particular interest in the measure’s passage: oil and gas (ExxonMobil), chemicals (American Chemistry Council), big-ag (the American Farm Bureau, CropLife America, the Fertilizer Institute) and the auto makers (Ford Motor Company and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers) — all industries that are threatened by stricter EPA regulations, either of greenhouse gases or pesticides and fertilizers.
Republicans accounted for 225 of 229 votes to pass the bill. One Republican joined 190 Democrats in opposing it. The four Democrats who crossed party lines are favorites of the industries who appeared to have lobbied hardest for this overhaul of the advisory board. Most prominent is Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), who lost his bid for re-election.
The oil and gas industry does not have much interest in House Democrats. Of the top 30 recipients of oil and gas money in the House this cycle, only two are Democrats, including Barrow. He comes in at No. 28, bringing in $133,000 from the industry. Oil and gas is one of his biggest backers — the fourth most supportive industry for Barrow this cycle, despite the general dearth of those commodities in Georgia’s terrain. That includes $10,000 from Exxon Mobil’s corporate PAC alone.
Another Democrat who crossed lines was Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), who is retiring so also will not return in January. Matheson’s fundraising totals were lower than normal this cycle, likely because he had no race to run, but over the course of his career, oil and gas was his fifth largest source of campaign cash.
Both Barrow and another Democrat who voted for the bill, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.V.) — also defeated on Nov. 4 — received contributions from Ford’s corporate PAC for the midterms, $1,000 and $4,000 respectively.
The fourth Democrat who voted for the bill — and the only one who will return next Congress — was Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). Peterson is the ranking member of the House Agriculture committee, so it’s no surprise that the sector that has offered Peterson the most support this election is agribusiness. That includes $6,000 from CropLife America, a pesticide manufacturer’s trade association that directly lobbied on the bill.
Peterson has also taken numerous contributions from prominent members of the association. Monsanto, for instance, was the second-largest source of cash for his campaign and leadership PAC ($30,000), and a Monsanto lobbyist personally gave Peterson’s campaign another $4,000.
Other CropLife America members whose corporate PACs contributed to Peterson’s re-election include Bayer ($2,000), BASF ($4,500), DuPont ($2,000), FMC Corporation ($2,000), Deere & Co. ($2,000) and Syngenta ($2,000).
The lone Republican to vote against the science board’s makeover was Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y). While Gibson has raised funds from some of the groups that lobbied on the bill — Exxon Mobil’s PAC gave Gibson’s campaign $3,500 and Ford’s PAC gave him $1,000 — his fundraising profile is quite different from those of the four Democrats who voted with his party.
Gibson has received just $8,000, for instance, from the oil and gas industry, compared to Democrat Barrow’s $133,000. In several ways, Gibson’s fundraising profile seems far more typical of a Democrat than Barrow’s. For example, the labor sector, which gave just 11 percent of its contributions to Republicans in 2014, gave Gibson $164,000 this cycle — more than Barrow, who got $155,000. (Labor, it should be noted, had no apparent interest in this piece of legislation, with no labor groups lobbying on the bill.)
But Gibson is not a Democrat — the $246,000 he received from fellow Republicans’ leadership PACs proves it, and makes his willingness to be the only GOP House member to side with the other party that much more interesting.