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Did Abramoff Scandal Fuel Republican Attack on Gas Prices?

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Talking Points Mirror Public Opinion Research Paid for through Indian Tribe Contributions arranged by Jack Abramoff


Last weekend, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson led the Republican’s new attack on gasoline prices. Appearing on Fox News, she blamed Democrats for the high cost of gas and called for the expansion of drilling off the coasts and in the Alaskan National Wilderness Refuge. I would not have expected anything less. During her Senate career, Hutchinson has been little more than paid shill to the oil and gas industry.  Since 1990, she has raked in more than $2 million in campaign contributions, making her the top recipient of oil and gas largess, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Altogether, Republicans have received nearly $165 million in contributions from the oil and gas industry during the same time period.  Just for the record, this year’s top recipent of oil and gas contributions is Republican nominee to be John McCain, who has received $791,777.

Given that the Republican party appears to be owned lock, stock and barrel by the oil and gas industry, no one should be surprised by their call for the expansion of oil drilling.  But what is interesting is that the Republican talking points sound a lot like the work of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), a lobbying group connected to Jack Abramoff and ill-gotten Indian tribe donations.

Hutchinson’s comments on gas prices and those of other Republicans mirror public opinion research from May 2001 provided by CREA to then Interior Secretary Gayle Norton (and apparently the Cheney energy taskforce). The  documents, obtained from the Justice Department by the National Resources Defense Council, emphasize the use of rising gas prices to promote increased drilling. The research concludes, "language that . . . emphasizes price increases in gasoline and natural gas and the California situation resonates with voters and makes the case that ‘Gasoline price stability is the single most potent argument for opening up the Alaskan National Wilderness Refuge.”  Additonally, records obtained by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee (pages 7&8) show that Funds from the Coushatta Indian Tribe given to the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA) at the suggestion of lobbyist Jack Abramoff paid for a public opinion survey provided to U.S. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and others at the Department.

Maybe the Republicans can convince the American people that the high price of gasoline is the fault of Democrats, and that the reason the oil and gas industry is giving them millions of dollars is so they can lower gas prices.  But before voters swallow that line, they should understand that the idea of using higher gas prices to open up environmentally sensitive areas to drilling is right out of Jack Abramoff’s bag of tricks.   And that the people paying the Republicans are the same ones making record profits off of high gasoline prices.

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John McDonald is a writer and consultant in Los Angeles.
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