Thursday, March 02, 2006


Following the Oil Money

The battle over Hawaii's gas cap is proving to be a great reason to pass a Voter Owned Elections law. It would be naive to think that contributions paid by or expected from the oil industry are not a factor in lawmakers' decision making on this controversial issue.

Caught in the middle are all of us who have shelled out more for gasoline than we should have, and who are faced with the prospect of paying even more should the law be repealed.

The House seems bent on repealing the law, the first in the nation, despite testimony by the state Public Utilities Commission that in using its discretion, it set prices as high as it could rather than as low as possible. You'd think that the House might work on that core problem instead of taking away what protection consumers have had.

What could be fueling this flight from logic?

Certainly, it's fair to suspect that oil industry money might be involved. In fact, in the 2004 election cycle, the industry pumped up the campaign funds of Hawaii lawmakers by a whopping $150,822 according to This includes $46,250 from Chevron/Texaco, $36,097 from Tesoro, a generous $25,000 additional from Albert DK Chee, Director of Chevron/Texaco, and other large contributions from Interisland Petroleum, Aloha Petroleum, Maui Petroleum, or people associated with those companies.

Let's keep in mind that this huge payout to politicos has been more than recovered from the wallets of Hawaii drivers and small business owners who paid more for their gasoline than they would have if the gas cap had been administered to produce the lowest prices. In other words, we all paid at the pump much more than we needed to, and part of the oil company's windfall profits can be turned into campaign contributions.

Looking over the data, a large portion of the money went to the campaigns of Republican candidates who eventually lost in the primary or the general election. Of course, there are more Democrats in the House than Republicans, but still, they did not get nearly as much per capita in the 2004 cycle from the oil lobby as did the oil-industry-friendly Republicans. Contributions have gone to a couple of legislators who indeed have voted for repeal.

This is an election year, and special interest money will help top off candidates' war chests once again. Will there be a bigger payoff if a legislator votes to repeal the gas cap law?

Here's a chance for the average person to make a difference. We've all had extra money snatched from our wallets when we buy gas. The gas cap law should have been used to lower the price, not as a political tool by an administration that wants to get it repealed. Mark down what you pay next time you fill up, then call your state representative about lowering that bill, and remind them that you, not the oil companies, vote for them.


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