This story was written by Washington Post staff writer Dan Eggen and Kimberly Kindy.
Three out of every four lobbyists who represent oil and gas companies previously worked in the federal government, a proportion that far exceeds the usual revolving-door standards on Capitol Hill, a Washington Post analysis shows.
Key lobbying hires include 18 former members of Congress and dozens of former presidential appointees. For other senior management positions, the industry employs two former directors of the Minerals Management Service, the since-renamed agency that regulates the industry, and several top officials from the Bush White House. Federal inspectors once assigned to monitor oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico have landed jobs with the companies they regulated.
With more than 600 registered lobbyists, the industry has among the biggest and most powerful contingents in Washington. Its influence has been on full display in the wake of the BP oil disaster: Proposals to enact new restrictions or curb oil use have stalled amid concerted Republican opposition and strong objections from Democrats in oil-producing states.
CBSNews.com Special Report: Disaster in the Gulf
Even considering the generally friendly relationship between K Street and Capitol Hill, the number of well-connected oil lobbyists is remarkable. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics calculates that fewer than one in three registered lobbyists in 2009 had revolving-door connections -- less than half the oil industry rate found by The Post.
Officials with the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group that tracks Interior Department officials who cross over to the oil sector, said they were surprised by the findings. "With these numbers, you can see how the revolving door between the Hill and industry allowed problems in the agency to happen and not be addressed," said Mandy Smithberger, an investigator for the group.
As both the House and Senate consider limiting the influence of revolving-door lobbyists, the topic will be a focus of a congressional hearing Thursday chaired by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), who has experienced the phenomenon firsthand: One of his former aides, Jesse McCollum, signed on as a BP lobbyist two weeks after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Towns's office declined to comment; McCollum did not respond to a message.
The Post analysis found that BP and other companies involved in the gulf disaster employ as lobbyists more than three dozen former lawmakers, congressional staffers and bureaucrats. BP alone has hired at least 31 internal and external lobbyists with government experience, records show.
The American Petroleum Institute, the industry's leading trade group, employs 48 lobbyists with previous federal experience, the analysis shows. They include former senator J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), who helped deregulate the natural gas industry, and former congressmen Jim McCrery (R-La.) and Charlie Stenholm (D-Tex.), both of whom strongly backed oil interests while in Congress.
"If you want somebody to work on energy issues, you don't hire health-care workers," said Jack N. Gerard, the group's president and chief executive.
Few former government officials who joined the oil industry wanted to discuss their new roles. More than 30 individuals, companies and lobbying firms contacted by The Post, including BP, declined to comment or did not respond to messages.
All told, more than 430 industry lobbyists once had jobs in the legislative or executive branches, according to the Post analysis, which was based on CRP lobbying data, employment histories and other records. Scores had ties to major committees that shape federal oil policies or to lawmakers who supported industry priorities while in Congress, records show.
Focus on ex-lawmakers
The analysis suggests the industry has focused on hiring former lawmakers from oil-producing states. Fifteen of the 18 former members of Congress who now lobby for oil and gas firms are from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma or Kansas.
Dozens more previously worked as aides to lawmakers from those states. At least three industry lobbyists, for example, previously worked for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), an outspoken critic of President Obama's oil-drilling moratorium in the gulf.
During a June hearing, Landrieu warned Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that a prolonged halt to deep-water drilling "could potentially wreak economic havoc on this region that exceeds the havoc wreaked" by the spill itself. Later that evening, Landrieu held her annual "Crawfish Fest" fundraiser, and its hosts included seven oil industry lobbyists -- six of whom previously worked on Capitol Hill, the invitation shows.
Landrieu said in an interview that she is naturally interested in oil and gas issues given the industry's importance to Louisiana. But, she added, the industry contributes relatively little to her campaign accounts given its size.
Out of more than 100 former staffers, Landrieu said, only a handful work for oil firms. They include former legislative counsel Kevin Avery, now representing Marathon Oil, and former energy adviser Jason Schendle, now lobbying for BP and other oil firms. "These two individuals don't have any more special access than anybody else," Landrieu said. Avery and Schendle did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Marathon spokesman Lee G. Warren said the company seeks varied backgrounds in hiring for its government-affairs team; records show it has hired at least seven lobbyists with government experience. Warren said former government employees "offer experience and expertise."
The party affiliation of lobbyists is fairly evenly divided. About 55 percent of the revolving-door lobbyists with clear partisan affiliations have worked for Republicans, including two former aides to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who lobby for Exxon Mobil, the records show. Three aides to former vice president Richard B. Cheney, himself a former oil-services executive, now lobby on behalf of oil firms, including former energy adviser Kevin O'Donovan, now a Royal Dutch Shell executive. Former interior secretary Gale Norton is a Shell lawyer.
Shell spokesman Bill Tanner said the company looks for "candidates with the academic and professional experience, proven commitment and highest standards of integrity."
Plenty of oil lobbyists also have worked for Democrats, including power broker Tony Podesta, whose lobbying firm represents BP and Sunoco. He has co-hosted at least five fundraisers for Democratic candidates this year, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
From agency to industry
Nowhere has government and industry coziness been on display more clearly than at MMS -- recently renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The Post analysis found more than a dozen former MMS employees working for the oil industry. Lawmakers have asked the agency to provide Congress with the work histories of agency employees. The agency's new director, Michael Bromwich, acknowledged conflicts in the inspecting ranks in a statement to The Post and said new procedures aim to prevent employees from conducting inspections of former employers.
One recent example of a revolving-door move within MMS involved Randall Luthi, who left as agency director just weeks before the BP explosion to become president of the National Ocean Industries Association. Although Luthi's salary has not been disclosed, the previous association president made $580,000 in salary and bonuses in 2008, tax records show. Luthi, who declined interview requests, made less than $160,000 at MMS.
The Obama administration's single revolving-door appointment at the agency is a former BP executive, Sylvia Baca, who was named deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management in June of last year. (Baca served as assistant secretary for land and minerals management in the Clinton administration.)
Salazar spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said Baca does not work on offshore-drilling issues and has been recused for two years, or until next summer, from participating in any cases involving BP.
The close ties between industry and government can lead to troubles. In a few cases, fraternal ties and the lure of money have led to criminal convictions. Former Interior officials Milton K. Dial and Jimmy W. Mayberry pleaded guilty in 2009 and 2008, respectively, to charges stemming from a contracting scheme that allowed the men to retire from MMS but continue to earn six-figure salaries funded by the agency.
Dial declined to comment. In a telephone interview, Mayberry said, "It was a contracting issue between me and the government, and that's been resolved."
When agency investigators examined the MMS's Lake Charles, La., office this year, they found that inspector Donald C. Howard reaped financial benefits from an offshore firm he was supposed to be regulating. Howard was sentenced last year to one year of probation and fined $3,000. He did not return calls seeking comment.