Who’s giving money to which presidential campaign

And what it tells us about the Obama and McCain policies

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

Anybody can run for President, anybody with money that is. It’s no secret that Obama and McCain are both relying on hefty financial donations to help them win the presidency. But just who’s donating to whom, and how much? Most importantly, how will those donations affect the candidate’s policies?

There’s no crystal ball to tell us exactly what high roller contributions mean for an Obama or McCain presidency. But Plenty (with help from the Center for Responsive Politics) peeked at Obama and McCain’s donor trail to get an idea of what possible paths the two candidates could take when faced with tough environmental issues. Surprisingly enough, we found that big-time financial contributors are already holding the flashlight when it comes to leading presidential candidates down the dark path of environmental quandaries. 

Oil and Gas
When it comes to reigning in the black gold industry, McCain’s got it made. Overall, the oil and gas industry loves Republicans, a long standing trend. So far, the industry has given $16,979,854 to the Republican Party in 2008. Meanwhile, the Democrats picked up a measly $5,552,713, mere chump change to big time contenders. And, the industry on the whole thinks McCain is their man, which is probably why he was the industry’s top recipient for funds for this year, totaling a whopping $1,663,590. In comparison, Obama has only received $464,023.

However, look at the fine print, and the numbers go into unfamiliar territory. For example, though Exxon Mobil gives most of its money to Republicans—with only 22% to Democrats—surprisingly Obama, not McCain, is Exxon’s top recipient. He’s raked in $61,050 in campaign contributions, while McCain is currently in third place at $45,315.

Another big oil and gas dealer is Chevron, which contributed $496,552 to Republicans and $181,774 to Democrats so far this year. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, ChevronTexaco lobbies hard on many energy issues and is in favor of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. But unlike Exxon and BP, Chevron is hedging its bets pretty evenly. So far it’s given John McCain $41,551 and Obama $39,857. Despite the even numbers, McCain seems grateful, even making a special trip in August down to the Louisiana Bay to visit a Chevron-owned oil rig.

Coal Mining
Both presidential candidates are big promoters of clean coal, and after taking a look at the political contributions that the coal industry has given, it’s easy to see why. This year alone, the coal mining industry has given $1,704,932 to Republicans and $768,498 to Democrats. The industry clearly favors McCain, who’s so far received $78,596 in campaign contributions, while Obama has received only $12,900. Despite the paltry figure, Obama knows that the coal issue sways voters (particularly in West Virginia and Kentucky), which is probably why he’s such a cheerleader for clean coal technology lately (though his running mate Joe Biden is a bit tougher on the issue, strongly arguing that clean coal doesn’t have a place in the US.)

McCain has also put on the pom-poms for coal, even making a special visit to Consol, one of the country’s largest coal producers, to take a tour of its research facilities where engineers are trying to perfect a way to burn waste coal using high-pressure cylinders. “Coal is America's greatest natural resource, as far as energy is concerned,” McCain gushed after touring the facility.

The Auto Industry
The auto world is more than just sexy mechanics with mussed shirts and oil-stained fingers. Despite Detroit’s long-standing financial troubles, the US auto manufacturing industry has given big bucks to politicians--$1,005,926 to Republicans and $984,590 to Democrats so far in 2008. This even keel of funds indicates that both political parties will continue to lend an ear to the auto industry in a desperate attempt to win their favor.

Car dealers in particular are heavy hitters when it comes to campaign contributions, favoring Republicans over Democrats because of their pro-business stance. So far they’ve given $5,019,531 to Republicans and $1,593,456 to Democrats. This year McCain received $456,651 in contributions, while Obama picked up a mere $88,142. Maybe that’s why Obama only has one car, while McCain can afford 13. Obama’s one car policy speaks volumes when gauging the likelihood of an Obama Presidency calling for fewer cars on the road. 

Green Ventures
For the first time, well, ever, the alternative energy industry, which lumps together wind, solar and geothermal power, crop-based ethanol and other biofuels, is making a significant contribution to presidential hopefuls’ pockets. No surprises here. The industry overwhelmingly supports Democrats over Republicans ($746,552 compared to $275,004 respectively), with Obama raking in an impressive $90,557. Not bad for wind power.

The top contributor in the industry is National Biofuels, which has given a respectable $160,400, all to Democrats. Both McCain and Obama heavily tout biofuels’ benefits.

Environmentalists in general are also stepping up to the plate in campaign contributions, so far giving $1,808,387 to Democrats and $150,731 to Republicans with $201,050 to Obama. The Environmental Defense Fund and Defenders of Wildlife are the big hitters in this category, spending a little over $8 million in lobbying efforts, while Sierra Club has opted out of the contribution game, instead choosing to spend money on issue ads.

So there it is: the down and dirty on campaign contributions. Overall, it’s clear that in general major polluters, such as Big Oil and Auto are choosing McCain as their man, but those who are keen on Obama should keep in mind that’s he no eco saint. Still, greener industries like alternative energy are starting to emerge as significant players in the presidential hopefuls’ pocket padding game, which signals that White House sponsored eco-friendlier initiatives just may be on the horizon.  

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