· Published in Investigations

European Petrochemical Giants and the US midterm elections

How much money are European chemical and oil and gas corporations spending on US elections and lobbying? A snapshot of our upcoming research on the petrochemical industry.

On 8 November, the United States will hold so-called “midterm elections”, which might result in the Democrats losing their majority in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, and a raft of pro-Trump Republicans winning key federal or state-level positions.

The 2022 elections are projected to be the most expensive midterms election ever, at over $16.7bn (source: Open Secrets). Large parts of this money flowing into congressional races - as well as into state-level campaigns - is coming from wealthy businessmen, and corporations, including from US-based subsidiaries of European corporations. Part of this information is public. Usually the support they bring to election campaigns closely reflects the interests they have in US politics and legislation, as well as whre they are located in the country.

The ENCO network has recently embarked on a long-term research on the European petrochemical industry – including corporations such as BASF, Arkema, Solvay or Ineos, as well as the petrochemical subsidiaries of European oil giants – looking at the global and local ecological impact as well as into their key role in lobbying against climate action as well as against other environmental regulation, on plastic pollution for instance.

As part of this research project, we have collected information on the political contributions of European petrochemical corporations in this year’s elections and the previous ones, as well as their declared lobbying expenses in Washington DC in recent years.

Based on the information disclosed so far, there are two EU-based companies in the top10 of campaign contributions from petrochemical and oil & gas corporations between 2019 and 2022: German chemical company BASF in fourth position with $ 1.4 million disbursed, and Dutch-based LyondellBasell at number eight with $ 418,000. Another European company, BP, is fifth with $ 817,000. There 5 other EU-based companies in the top 20: Solvay, Arkema, Covestro, Engie and TotalEnergies.

Unsurprisingly, much of the campaign financing of European petrochemical companies centres on states where they are heavily present, particularly Texas, but also California, Louisiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Looking at the 2019-2022 figures for lobbying expenses at federal level, two EU-based companies appear in the top 10: Shell at number three with a staggering $19.5 million spent, and LyondellBasell at number seven with $8.1 million. BP is again fifth with $14.1 million.

Other EU-based companies in the top 20 include Air Liquide, Covestro, BASF, Arkema and Solvay.

EU corporations also do lobbying and campaign contributions through the trade associations they belong to. Those industry organisations are particularly powerful in the petrochemical and oil & gas sectors and include the American Chemistry Council, American Petroleum Institute, American Gas Association and American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.

Those US-based interest groups have often almost exactly the same members as their EU-based counterparts, such as Cefic, FuelsEurope, Eurogas or PlasticsEurope.

In the US just as in Europe, revolving doors, in other words hiring former officials or civil servants to help get access to information and key decision-makers, is a key strategy of industry and lobbying firms. We found in our research that European corporations are involved in numerous revolving doors cases, both at state and federal level. Lobbyists for Arkema, the French petrochemical corporation, include a former Senior Advisor to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue under Donald Trump, a former Chief Counsel for U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman David Vitter (R-LA) and a former Deputy Chief of Staff to U.S. John Kennedy (R-LA). Solvay employs as lobbyists a former assistant to Chief of Staff for U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-CA) and a former staffer for U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). Covestro, the German chemical company employs as a lobbyist a former Policy Advisor to U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) for the EPW Committee; as well as a staffer for EPW under David Vitter (R-LA) and Grassroots Director of his 2010 campaign. And so on.

This research will be used as part of an upcoming report. Get in touch with us if you want to have access to the detailed data we have collected.

Images by Louis Vest (cc by-nc) and jan buchholtz (cc by-nc-nd)