• Emailarticle
  • Writecomment

Energy and Campaign Donations

Many of us wonder how our federal government could have delayed energy conservation for so many years.


During hot Chicago summers, many of us head up to Michigan and Wisconsin for weekend getaways. But this summer, the trip north is going to be more costly. Those of us who remember the gas shortage in the 70's, waiting in long lines trying to fill up our tanks, were warned. Today's SUV owners now complain that it can cost more than $80 to fill up the gas tank. Yet few of us connect the dots from energy to campaign donations. Unfortunately, that's where much of the problem starts.

Robert Redford hosted a three-day mayors retreat on energy and climate change called the Sundance Summit last July, where Mayor Richard M. Daley spoke about our rooftop garden initiative, his plan to encourage energy-efficient buildings and how 500,000 trees have been planted on his watch. Also attending the conference was Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Energy Secretary under President Bill Clinton, who said, "Let's face it, if we wait around for the federal government to act, we aren't going to see anything happen," according to Grist Magazine.

Many of us wonder how our federal government could have delayed energy conservation for so many years. Given our dependence on foreign oil and global warming warnings, how could we have stalled the inevitable for so long? If it weren't for the oil lobbyists and Vice President Dick Cheney's secret energy meetings, would we have gone the past six years without an energy conservation plan?

"Not a day goes by without some new disclosure, some new bit of headline evidence that our brilliant energy success comes at great cost,air pollution and toxic waste sites, blackouts and price spikes, fraud and corruption, and even war," writes Paul Roberts in The End of Oil, "The industrial-strength confidence that was a by-product of our global energy economy for most of the 20th century has slowly been replaced by anxiety."

In the United States, we waste many resources on "lifestyle" choices. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the average U.S. citizen requires 10 hectares (24.7 acres) of our planet to support his or her lifestyle. By comparison, the average European requires more than 5 hectares, while the average African only needs around one hectare. Claude Martin, WWF's director general, told Inter Press Service that at this rate, "we need 1.2 planets to sustain our collective lifestyles."

Our goal must be sustainability in all aspects of our life if we want to stop global warming and preserve our natural resources. We have a responsibility to elect public servants who represent the welfare of the public, not special interests.

The only way to change the system of rewarding corporations for their campaign donations is to change the way we elect our leaders. Until we fund elections with public financing and conduct them with democratic principles rather than millions of dollars of bundled donations and paperless voting machines, our government will continue to be in the hands of corporations that serve the profit interests of their companies instead of U.S. citizens. Until we get the big money out of politics, we will continue to have unqualified lobbyists and corporate flacks appointed to head federal agencies. When Chicago Life interviewed renewable energy visionary and former California Gov. Jerry Brown more than a decade ago, he termed our system of campaign donations "legalized bribery." The problem has only ballooned since then.

Kevin Phillips writes in American Theocracy that the average car in the United States got just 15 miles per gallon in 1975. By 1985, the number rose to 26 mpg. Unfortunately, many of today's lighter cars get around 26 mpg, while SUV's get approximately 13 mpg. There are better options: Toyota's Prius hybrid gets 60 mpg in city driving.

Duel fears that American oil production had peaked and that OPEC had the potential to threaten the dollar both spurred the "Invade Iraq" constituency, writes Phillips. The fact that "money, prestige, and reserves at stake were beyond dispute. Were ExxonMobil, Chevron Texaco, BP, and Royal Dutch/Shell to divide up Iraq, their receipts over several decades would be in the trillions of dollars." However, the price is too steep to bear. As the Asia Times wrote in 2002, "A quick look at the map is all it takes. It's no coincidence that the map of terror in the Middle East and Central Asia is practically interchangeable with the map of oil. There's Infinite Justice, Enduring Freedom, and Everlasting Profits to be made."

"Today the Republicans own the government lock, stock and barrel," wrote Bill Moyers in an April 6 article in the Washington Spectator. "And they have turned their self-proclaimed revolution into a cash cow. Look back at the bulk of legislation passed by Congress in the past decade: an energy bill that gives oil companies huge tax breaks at the same time that ExxonMobil has just posted $36.13 billion in profits and our gasoline and home heating bills are at an all-time high; a bankruptcy 'reform' bill written by credit card companies to make it harder for poor debtors to escape the burdens of divorce or medical catastrophe; the deregulation of the banking, securities and insurance sectors, which brought on rampant corporate malfeasance and greed and the destruction of the retirement plans of millions of small investors; the deregulation of the telecommunications sector, which led to cable industry price-gouging and an undermining of news coverage; protection for rampant overpricing of pharmaceutical drugs; and the blocking of even the mildest attempt to prevent American corporations from dodging an estimated $50 billion in annual taxes by opening a P.O. box in an off-shore haven like the Cayman Islands."

According to Moyers, for approximately $10 per taxpayer per year, we could "buy back our politicians in Congress and the White House with full public funding. Unless we offer qualified candidates a different source of campaign funding with clean, disinterested and accountable public money, the selling of America will go on, and we will wake up one day in a country we no longer recognize."

Published: June 01, 2006
Issue: Summer 2006