Oil slick

After Sen. Dean Heller voted earlier this month to continue tax breaks for oil companies—who reported profits of many billions last year while gas prices climb above $4—some environmental groups were quick to point out Heller’s campaign contributors within the oil industry.

A statement following the vote from the Nevada Conservation League noted, “[A]fter accepting $80,750 from the oil industry, it should come as no surprise that Senator Heller would vote to protect the profits of his loyal campaign contributors.” The number, according to Opensecrets.org, was actually $89,750, but it fails to explain Heller’s vote. Heller received far less from the industry than several other politicians perceived as less friendly to big oil. (Though his environmental voting score is still a miserable 4 out of 100, as tallied by the League of Conservation Voters’ National Environmental Scorecard.)

Sen. Harry Reid, for instance, who voted to repeal tax breaks to oil companies, has received $351,386 from oil and gas companies throughout his—notably longer—career. Also from Opensecrets.org: President Obama received $978,201; Hillary Clinton $546,452; John Kerry $416,640; and Al Gore accepted $168,039.

So why would Heller vote to continue tax breaks for oil companies—a move some estimate could have reduced the nation’s budget deficit by $20 billion? He told the Las Vegas Sun, “I don’t think that will lower the price of gasoline at the pumps.”

BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell Oil alone receive a combined $2 billion a year in tax breaks. They also earned more than $31 billion in profits in just the first three months of 2011. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in February showed 74 percent of voters supported eliminating tax breaks to oil companies.