The energy industry is beginning to coalesce around Mitt Romney as its preferred candidate for president, according to an E&E Daily review of contributions to the various presidential candidates and political action committees associated with them.
Much of the money this year is expected to flow into so-called SuperPACs, which can receive unlimited contributions from companies, unions or individuals because of the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.
Pro-Romney SuperPAC Restore Our Future has received significant donations from the energy industry. Oxbow Carbon LLC gave at least $750,000 last year. And its founder, William Koch -- brother to prolific conservative donors Charles and David Koch -- gave the SuperPac $250,000.
Consol Energy Inc. gave Restore Our Future $150,000 last July, while businessman Wade Murphy, executive at Murphy Oil Corp., gave the group $15,000 last October.
Romney has also done well with individual donations from the energy industry.
In recent months, his campaign has received $5,000 from coal company Alliance Resource Partners LP, $5,000 from gas giant Chesapeake Energy Corp., $2,500 from nuclear services firm EnergySolutions Inc. and $500 from the Georgia Mining Association's political action committee, Federal Election Commission records show.
Last year, Arch Coal Inc. CEO Steven Leer gave Romney at least another $2,500, after having contributed during Romney's previous run for president. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. CEO Kevin Crutchfield also donated to Romney during his last presidential bid.
By contrast, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who has since dropped out of the race, both attracted energy donations, but nothing close to Romney. Ethanol giant Poet LLC, for example, gave the Gingrich campaign $5,000 last year. The pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future SuperPAC has not received major contributions from energy interests.
Perhaps the money game on energy would have been different if Texas Gov. Rick Perry were still in the race. Coming from an energy-rich state, he was a magnet for industry donations.
Perry collected more than $798,000 in contributions connected to oil and gas compared to just over $500,000 for Romney, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Make Us Great Again PAC, known to back Perry, received $250,000 from Chesapeake Energy last year, $250,000 from the head of Midland Energy Inc. and $100,000 from an executive at Occidental Petroleum Corp.
Some Perry donors include Murray Energy Corp., whose company executives organized a fundraiser for the Texas Republican in Wheeling, W.Va., last September. Murray gave Perry's campaign at least $5,000.
While President Obama touts an all-of-the-above energy agenda, talking up natural gas and other sources during his State of the Union speech, major energy firm dollars are not likely to fill his coffers. That is especially the case when GOP candidates like Romney are promising fewer regulatory burdens for miners, drillers and power plants.
"The United States is an energy-rich country living like an energy-poor country," Romney wrote in an op-ed published last year. "We purchase hundreds of billions of dollars of energy from overseas while keeping many of our own energy resources locked up in the ground. Reversing this backward dynamic is a critical pathway to creating economic growth and jobs."
Still, renewable energy interests are likely to continue funneling dollars to Democrats, including the president. Declan Flanagan, CEO of Lincoln Renewable Energy LLC, gave $5,000 to the Obama Victory Fund 2012. Ed Cunningham, an executive at U.S. Renewable Energy Group, gave the fund $35,800, FEC records show.
The president's re-election campaign does not take PAC dollars directly but the liberal SuperPAC Priorities USA Action is rooting for his re-election. Last year Priorities USA received $500 from Solyndra executive Ben Bierman and $5,000 last year from Dan Turton, former White House aide and executive for Entergy Corp., a major producer of nuclear power.
Money waiting on the sidelines
Despite the continuing flow of money, many large companies and groups like the National Mining Association have yet to make any significant donations to the presidential race.
"A lot of industries are risk averse and they like to see others go out ahead and see what happens to them," said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, noting that the GOP field is not yet settled.
"Individuals so far have dominated the SuperPAC scene," she said, "but I think that will change when it's really clear who is on the Republican side."
Plus, experts note that many companies and groups may be keeping their contributions anonymous by donating to a 501(c)(4) group.
"Everyone is trying to figure out what they can and can't do," McGehee said. "What we do know is that the SuperPACs are playing a big role in the presidential race, there is still a lot of undisclosed money that is going through the C4 organizations."