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Drilling for Influence: API Unshaken by 2012 Elections

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Gerard, the American Petroleum Institute president, casts the election as a clear win, calling Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy an endorsement of oil and gas.

With its neoclassical marble columns and massive, gold-trimmed wooden doors, the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium was an apt setting for American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard’s annual State of American Energy speech.

“U.S. oil and natural gas companies are providing more than jobs and more than economic growth,” Gerard declared at the event last month, his usually quiet voice booming through the high-ceilinged banquet room of the government-owned auditorium that connects the two wings of the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters. “The success of this industry means enhancing our energy security, our economic security and our national security.”

Gerard’s grand pronouncements contrasted with what must have been a considerable letdown for him and his trade group following the 2012 elections. Gerard had been one of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s biggest boosters inside the Beltway and had been mentioned as a possible White House or Cabinet appointee.

But Gerard now casts the election as a clear win for his industry, and the API has responded with characteristic bravado. Within two weeks of Election Day, API had launched a multistate TV ad campaign targeting some half-dozen Senate Democrats, all up for re-election in 2014, with ads urging them to steer clear of “job-killing energy taxes.”

Gerard’s speech kicked off yet another campaign that combines print and broadcast ads, grass-roots organizing and social media to cast big petroleum as a boon to the nation’s economy and national security — providing, the argument goes, that the industry isn’t burdened with new taxes and regulations, and gets full access to leases and drilling sites.

The Investing in America’s Future campaign harkens to the multimillion-dollar Vote4- Energy API campaign that employed a similar strategy during the 2012 elections. The idea is to build public support from the ground up, said Gerard, a tactic he cottoned to after talking to some of President Barack Obama’s organizers following the 2008 election.

With a $185 million budget in 2010, according to tax records (Gerard’s share of that was $2.2 million), the trade group can well afford national broadcast and cable ads such as its latest “What Does it Take to Make America Run?” spot, in which a polished female narrator sings the petroleum industry’s praises. The group spent $7.3 million on lobbying last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And the titans of the 500-member API, from Exxon Mobil Corp. to Shell Oil Co., are riding a natural gas and hydraulic fracturing boom.

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