Ethanol Takes on Big Oil

Source: by Russ Choma on August 26, 2013 3:26 PM, Center for Responsive Politics • Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The leading ethanol trade association in Washington is aware that it’s not the biggest name in town. In fact, when it rolled out its new campaign, Growth Energy did its best to portray itself as the little guy who just can’t compete in Washington — a little old trade group just sick of being pushed around by the oil industry.

“We understand we’re the little guy. We know we’re the underdog. It’s David versus Goliath. But the biofuels industry will no longer tolerate misleading information and nor should the American public,” Growth Energy’s press release reads. The new campaign, which includes a website the group has named, will push a television ad series telling viewers they’re being treated like “dummies” by the oil industry, in an attempt to counteract that industry’s effort to turn customers away from ethanol.

The campaign appears to be trying to take the fight to the court of public opinion, rather than go head-to-head with oil money in Washington. That may be a wise strategy. Growth Energy may be the ethanol industry’s version of the American Petroleum Industry, but it hasn’t got a chance of outgunning Big Oil on the lobbying front.

According to data, Growth Energy has spent $640,000 on federal lobbying so far this year and $1.3 million in 2012, making it the 360th biggest spender on K Street out of 4,374 organizations ranked by CRP in 2012. The group is made up of roughly 80 ethanol plants scattered around the Midwest and another 82 “associate members” which include a number of well-known names in the agriculture and energy worlds — like the Agriculture Retailers Association, CenterPoint Energy and subsidiaries of Perdue and Dupont.

But the American Petroleum Institute has spent $4.1 million so far this year and $7.3 million in 2012, good enough to rank the group as the 57th biggest spender.

Growth Energy did match more closely with API in terms of campaign contributions last cycle. While API’s PAC handed out $199,000 to federal candidates in the 2012 cycle, Growth Energy’s gave $130,500.

The two groups diverged, though, on where they directed their contributions. Neither is particularly beloved by environmentalists or closely associated with Democrats, but API barely seemed to bother trying to win over Democrats. Its PAC contributed just $44,500 to congressional Dems, with the remainder going to Republicans. Growth Energy also gave far more to House Republicans — $47,500 compared to $28,000 to House Democrats — but in the Senate, showed a firm preference for the majority Democrats, giving them $38,500 compared to just $16,000 for Senate Republicans.

Growth Energy’s PAC spent more than it took in in 2012, with the PAC’s total expenditures topping $200,000 while it collected only $163,700. The group had a cushion of cash to work with from the previous cycle, but so far in the 2014 cycle, it has raised just $7,500 and has only $17,000 in cash on hand.

API’s PAC, on the other hand, raised $233,000 in 2012, spent $212,000 and has already raised $80,500 so far this cycle. It has also already spent quite a bit of money this cycle, including $64,000 in contributions to members of Congress (with 82 percent going to Republicans), but still has more than $33,000 in cash on hand.