A gift for Putin, courtesy of Congress

By Jana Morgan, Director, Publish What You Pay - United States on February 2, 2017

With unresolved questions lingering about Russia’s interference in one of this country’s most hallowed democratic traditions, our election, it is peculiar that one of the apparent priorities of the new Congress is to hand Russian president Vladmir Putin a rather valuable gift.

Only one month on the job the House has rushed to kill a regulation intended to make it more difficult for Vladmir Putin and other corrupt leaders to rule with impunity. It’s an odd thing to do, especially when doing so would undermine U.S. security and foreign policy objectives.

Why would Congress do such a short-sighted thing? Money. Not yours, but that of oil companies, namely the profits of big oil companies and the millions of dollars the oil industry generously “donates” to members of Congress each year. The oil and gas industry contributed $98 million to national politicians between 2014 and 2016, and spent nearly $250 million more on lobbying activities aimed at further influencing our elected leaders.

The regulation in question, a bipartisan anti-corruption provision passed in 2010 as part of the reforms made to reign in corporate America after its role in starting the Great Recession, requires oil, gas and mining companies to disclose the payments they make to government around the world. This includes places like Russia, China, and many other non-democracies whose leaders treat oil revenues as a state secret in order to stay in power and enrich themselves at the expense of their citizens, millions of whom struggle just to survive.

Put an end to that secrecy, and suddenly citizens are empowered with information they can use to hold their leaders accountable. That’s a win for those citizens, a win for democratic values, and a win for America, as the support systems for some of the world’s most dangerous leaders dry up, limiting their power.

Russia’s Vladmir Putin, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and Syria’s Bashir al Assad are just a few of the dangerous leaders that have been propped up by oil revenues that secrecy enabled them to steal.

Yet the oil industry is lobbying Congress to wipe away a regulation designed to help keep non-democratic (and in many cases, brutal) leaders such as these in check. Oil companies apparently have decided to place short-term profits ahead of the long-term wellbeing of the United States and the values that make this country great. Sadly, this isn’t the first time; in his detailed biography of the U.S. oil company ExxonMobil, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, Steve Coll recounts how the company has at times prioritized its own interests ahead of the country’s, even when that’s meant undermining America’s security and foreign policy objectives. At a time when corrupt leaders like Putin and Assad are growing emboldened and threatening our peace and security, we should be strengthening our anti-corruption efforts, not abolishing them.

The job of our elected officials is to protect America and our values. In the singular pursuit of profits, big oil companies like ExxonMobil time and again have placed their own interests ahead of America’s.

Yesterday, the House voted to put Big Oil’s interests first. It remains to be seen if the Senate has the guts to put America first.