Energy sector going all-in with DNC

Coal, wind, solar and petroleum are all sources of more than energy this year, with at least 10 companies that trade in these resources donating to the Democratic National Convention’s Denver host committee.

These energy companies didn’t make the list of 2004 Top Donors that contributed $100,000 or more to host committees, according to the Campaign Finance Institute — a Washington, D.C.- based group that tracks campaign donations and expenditures.

But this year — with the rising price of gas, energy as a national security concern and emerging green alternatives — companies such as Xcel Energy donated a million or more to each major party’s host committee.

CFI’s 2004 list was compiled from Federal Election Commission reports, which host committees aren’t required to file until 60 days after their respective conventions. A complete list of 2008 DNC donors and their contributions won’t be disclosed until Oct. 15, according to Denver host committee spokesman Chris Lopez.

When corporations give large amounts to host committees, it provides companies a lobbying opportunity, according to some political observers.

Bob Duffy, chairman of Colorado State University’s Political Science Department, said he’s not surprised more energy companies have donated to the DNC this year than in the past.

Both parties have proposals concerning both on- and offshore drilling; the argument over whether to drill in nature preserves rages on; there’s a debate in Congress over the effects of mountaintop-removal mining, which coal companies are interested in continuing; and renewable energy groups are hoping to get tax breaks and research money to help solar and wind energy carve out a bigger niche, Duffy said.

Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for increased markets and federal research in solar energy, donated an undisclosed amount to the DNC and is currently lobbying for the Senate to pass the Jobs, Energy, Families and Disaster Relief Act, which would extend the solar investment tax credits for eight years, according to SEIA’s Web site.

The American Wind Energy Association, a national trade association that promotes wind energy from its home in Washington, D.C., is pushing for a Production Tax Credit Extension , according to its Web site.

The tax credit, originally created by the federal government in 1992, is worth 2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced and is due to expire at the end of this year.

AWEA is also promoting a Senate bill for a tax credit for small wind systems used to power homes, according to its Web site.

St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, which bills itself as the largest coal company in the world, donated $125,000 to the Republican convention four years ago but gave nothing to the Democrats that year, according to the CFI report. But the company is now listed by the Denver host committee as a donor to the Democrats’ presidential nominating convention, although it has not disclosed the donation amount.

Conoco Phillips, a Houston-based energy company, which is building a renewable energy center in Colorado, donated an undisclosed amount to the DNC but nothing to the RNC, according to a companyrepresentative.

Denver-based Camco, which tracks carbon emissions, or “footprints,” is the “Official Carbon Advisor” to the convention and has donated an undisclosed amount.

The number and wide variety of energy sources the donor companies traffic in are a reflection of the political climate.

“I think it attests to the importance of energy this year. … Anybody who has a stake in [energy] wants to have a seat at the table. One way to do it is contribute directly to the conventions,” Duffy said.

Atlanta-based Southern Company, which deals in so-called “clean coal” and is the parent company of four southern energy companies, has donated an undisclosed amount.

Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum and Chesapeake Energy, a natural gas company headquartered in Oklahoma, also donated undisclosed amounts to the Democratic convention.

Mark Stutz, spokesman for the Colorado division of Xcel Energy, said the Minneapolis-based utility company gave $1 million in cash to the Denver committee and $1.1 million in cash and in-kind services to theRepublican National Convention’s Minneapolis-St. Paul committee, but for nonpolitical reasons, because the committees are technically nonprofits with a mission of community enhancement.

“In general, public utilities— and Xcel Energy is no exception — are expected to give back to the community each year from the earnings of the company; this is part of that annual effort,” Stutz said.

Xcel didn’t donate to either party’s 2004 convention, according to CFI’s report.

Other energy company representatives said that when it comes to energy, political involvement is unavoidable.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a Westminster-based wholesale power supplier, gave $50,000 to the Democratic convention and nothing to the RNC, according Jim Van Someren, spokesman for the energy cooperative.

Van Someren said Gov. Bill Ritter personally called Tri-State to ask for the company’s financial support, and Tri-State’s board of directors thought donating would be a good business decision.

“Going forward in the energy industry, you are going to be involved in the political process,” Van Someren said.

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J.C. O'Connell

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