Senate Democrats successfully blocked a bill Tuesday that would have approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The controversial measure fell one vote shy of overcoming a filibuster, with 59 senators supporting it and 41 opposing. The vote followed the bill’s approval in the House by a much wider margin, with 252 lawmakers voting to advance the pipeline.
The vote largely fell along party lines. All Senate Republicans supported construction of the pipeline but they were joined by 14 Democrats, including three of the four Democrat incumbents who lost their re-election bids earlier this month. For Sen. Mary Landrieu(D-La.), the bill’s main sponsor, the vote was considered an important test of her effectiveness in advance of a Dec. 6 runoff that will determine whether she keeps her seat. In the House, 31 Democrats crossed the aisle to side with the Republican majority.
Construction of the pipeline has been decried by environmental groups and championed by heavyweights in the oil and gas industry. Both of these interests are no strangers to money in politics. The oil and gas industry has long been a generous donor to federal candidates and committees — and increased its donations in 2014 over 2010. In the environmental community, where the League of Conservation Voters has long been the lead player on this front, environmental activist Tom Steyer is 2014′s top overall donor.
Oil and Gas
The 59 senators who voted for the pipeline have received, on average, significantly more money from the oil and gas industry than those who voted against construction. Over the course of their careers, those 59 took in over $33 million in campaign donations from the industry, compared to the approximately $4.2 million received by the 41 who successfully blocked the bill’s approval. On average, those voting for Keystone have received $572,000 from oil and gas interests, compared with just $103,900 for those voting against it.
Among the Democrats, the 39 “nay” votes received $4.2 million from oil and gas, while the 14 who voted with the Republicans received just under $4 million. On average, those voting no received about $108,000, while the Democratic supporters — who disproportionately represent states with strong oil and gas industry presence – received more than twice as much, about $284,000.
But the amount taken in by Democratic Keystone supporters pales in comparison to that received by Republicans, who received $662,000, on average, from oil and gas interests. The 11 Republicans who will be joining the Senate in January have taken in $370,000 on average (likely an artificially small amount since most of these Republicans have had much shorter time periods in which to accrue this money).
In the House, the picture is even more stark. Keystone supporters have garnered $56.2 million from the oil and gas industry over the course of their careers, compared to the $5.2 million that opponents have brought in. On average, a “yea” vote took in around $223,000 over the course of his or her career, while a “nay” vote took in a paltry $32,200. For just the 31 Democrats voting in favor, the average oil and gas tally was $115,349 — slightly less than the Republicans were able to bring in, but much more than the Keystone opponents.
The environmental community has historically given much less to federal candidates than oil and gas interests have. One reason the tally is lower: We have no way of knowing which donors consider themselves environmentalists. We classify contributions according to donors’ employers, and far more donors work for oil and gas companies than work for environmental groups.
(Spending by the Tom Steyer-funded NextGen Climate Action super PAC, as well as that of other super PACs, is not reflected in these totals, which include only contributions directly to candidates.)
Environmental money largely followed the same pattern that oil and gas money took, but in reverse — Senate Republicans received far less than Senate Democrats (on average just under $11,000 compared to an average of $141,000 for Democrats). Among Democrats, those who voted to build the pipeline received less than those who voted not to: just over $98,000 on average, compared to the $183,000 that Democrats who wanted to deep-six the project raised.
Similarly, in the House Republicans received far less than Democrats overall, but Keystone-supporting Democrats took in less from environmental groups and their employees than Keystone opponents. Keystone opponents received $6.2 million over the course of their careers, while Keystone proponents were only able to bring in $1.1 million, despite there being many more of them. On average, Keystone’s GOP supporters took in $2,932 from environmental interests while its Democratic cheerleaders brought in $14,196. Keystone opponents, all of them Democrats, took in $38,642 — more than twice as much as their nay-voting Democratic counterparts.
What does it mean?
It probably comes as no surprise that opponents of the pipeline — all Democrats — were more likely to be supported by environmental interests and that proponents were more likely to take in large sums from the oil and gas industry. Those Democrats who crossed party lines are a more interesting story: Although they more closely resemble their Democratic colleagues, they are far less likely to have received significant sums from environmental donors, but have received more from the oil and gas industry than those who voted against Keystone.
They are also less likely to be returning. Of the 14 Senate Democrats who sided with Republicans, four will be departing and many pollsters are speculating that Landrieu will not win her runoff. If she does not return, 65 percent of the Keystone-supporting Democrats will be members of the 114th Congress. Among the 39 Keystone opponents, however, five will not be returning — a yield of 87%. All of those five except for Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) will be replaced by Republicans.
Though the 114th Congress will have more GOP senators, they will have, on average, received less from the oil and gas industry over the course of their careers than the Republicans currently in the Senate, but the difference is slight and probably explained by the incoming lawmakers having had shorter congressional careers than the senators they are replacing. However, incoming Democratic senators will have received much less, on average, than the current Democratic class: A Democrat in the 114th Congress will have received $100,000 from the oil and gas industry, while a Democrat in the current Congress has received more $155,000. It looks, therefore, like upcoming Congress’ Senate Democrats will not only be fewer in number, but will have a weaker connection to the oil and gas industry.
For the full data set showing how each member of the Senate voted and how much they received from oil and gas or environment, click here.
All numbers in this story reflect career (back to 1989 at the earliest) totals to members of Congress and are based on data collected from the Federal Election Commission on 11/17/2014. Only itemized contributions of greater than $200 are included in the industry totals.