Chevron Gave More Than $1 Million to Lawmakers Who Voted to Overturn the Presidential Election

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A section of Chevron’s Richmond oil refinery. (Josh Cassidy/KQED)

Updated Feb. 5, 2021

Over the past 14 years, Chevron has donated more than a million dollars to Republican members of Congress who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, according to an analysis of federal campaign finance data.

The KQED-commissioned analysis, by MapLight, looked into political contributions the San Ramon-based oil giant, its employees and its political action committee made between 2007 and 2020 to any of the 147 Republican U.S. senators and representatives who objected to the Electoral College count on Jan. 6 to certify Joe Biden's presidential election. On the same day, far-right, mainly white supporters of former President Trump, violently attacked and invaded the Capitol.

The Berkeley-based nonpartisan group, which tracks the influence of money in politics, found that Chevron, its workers and its PAC donated over $1.1 million to 97 of those GOP legislators during that time period.

"Chevron's political donations belie a philosophy that there's nothing wrong with the status quo of the oil industry — and that petroleum is the future of American energy," said Paasha Mahdavi, an assistant professor of political science at UC Santa Barbara, who specializes in energy and environmental politics, and examined Maplight's data.

"That these same congressional leaders tacitly supported an insurrection is seemingly irrelevant to Chevron," Mahdavi said.

Maplight's figures do not include contributions Chevron has made to industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute and Western States Petroleum Association, which lobby for the interests of the oil industry.

Its analysis found that some of the company's largest donation totals to members of Congress in the last 15 years went to some of Trump's strongest allies, including two of his closest California supporters.

Chevron gave $106,000 to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, who hails from Kern County, home to a network of Chevron oil drilling sites, and $58,000 to Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia.

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It's not surprising to see a large oil company donating to Republicans, many of whom have brushed off climate change and advocated for the petroleum industry, but Chevron is in a league of its own compared to other major oil producers, according to Mahdavi.

"Chevron carries the most anti-climate rhetoric and public-facing platform when it comes to domestic environmental policies" Mahdavi said. "The company has routinely denied the core tenets of climate science and rejects the notion of a future without fossil fuels."

In an emailed statement to KQED following the publication of this story, Chevron representative Sean Comey claimed that characterization is inaccurate, saying, "Chevron believes the future of energy is lower carbon. We are working to help achieve that goal by reducing our carbon intensity, increasing renewables and offsets, and investing in low-carbon technologies. We recognize the findings of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the use of fossil fuels contributes to increases in global temperatures. We support the Paris Agreement and well-designed climate change and energy policy."

In recent weeks, executives for several large U.S. corporations have said they would either halt or review political donations to lawmakers who voted to overturn the election after the violent mob attacked the Capitol.

In an earlier statement, Comey said the company is looking into the issue:

"We continue our practice of regularly reviewing our policies, procedures and expenditures for political activities, including political contributions," he said.

"Recent events will be part of our review process. Chevron supports political candidates that take positions on a range of topics," Comey said. "We are not always aligned with all their views, but it is important for us to be part of discussions on important issues, including respect for the rule of law and well-designed climate change and energy policy."

Mahdavi says that if Chevron does not change its political donations, it would send a clear message to members of Congress, that "we [Chevron] don't care what you stand for as long as you support unabated oil and gas development with little concern to climate change."

Of course, the political tides in Washington are changing. Several days ago President Biden signed an executive order to start halting new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters. That effort to slow the nation's contribution to climate change is bound to face opposition from Chevron.

The international energy corporation — one of the largest companies in the country with close to 50,000 employees — says it gave $15 million to political candidates and state ballot measure campaigns in the United States and Australia in 2019.

"Our objective is to support political candidates, organizations and measures that aligned with Chevron's business interests," the company says on its website.

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Chevron says those interests include support for "responsible development of oil and natural gas resources, reasonable regulatory regimes, economic development, free enterprise, market based solutions (and) good governance."

Aside from its hundreds of gas stations, Chevron is known in California for running two of of the state's largest refineries, in Richmond and El Segundo.

The Richmond facility has become notorious among environmentalists and some of its neighbors in recent years for having more flaring incidents than any other Bay Area refinery and then paying little in fines for violating air quality regulations. Flaring is often used to relieve high pressure when refinery units malfunction.

The company has a network of oil drilling facilities in Central California. In recent years it's come under scrutiny from state regulators and increased criticism from environmentalists and lawmakers for a series of large oil spills in Kern County.

Chevron has significant operations in the rest of the country as well, with crude oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, Pennsylvania and Texas, and additional refineries in Utah, Mississippi and Texas.

The company also has operations in two dozen countries and says each year it produces enough oil to fuel 10 million cars and enough natural gas to light 12 million households.

On Friday, Chevron reported a loss of $665 million in its fourth quarter, showing how the pandemic has hurt the oil industry's bottom line. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the top executives at Chevron and Exxon Mobil had spoken last year about a potential merger.

This story has been updated to reflect a an additional statement from Chevron on its climate policies.

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