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Who Owns Big Oil? We Do!

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The American Petroleum Institute has a new public image campaign: http://whoownsbigoil.org.  The purpose of this website, presumably, is to convince us that if we raise taxes on hugely profitable corporations we will only be hurting ourselves. Why? Because we are all shareholders of those corporations and when they are taxed we suffer.

While I am skeptical of API’s conclusions, it’s right to say we own the oil companies, in fact, let’s have a look division of holdings by the numbers:

31.2% Pension Funds

21.1% Individual Investors

20.6% Asset Management Companies

17.7% IRA

6.6% Other Institutional Investors

2.8% Corporate Management of Oil Companies

So, in essence, API is saying that the general public owns 97.2% of their member corporations.

Let’s give these numbers some context, to explain why API’s website is even more misleading:

- In 2010, the Supreme Court anointed corporations with the rights of natural human beings to spend unlimited money out of their general treasury to influence elections. 

- Corporate treasury money is what funds the American Petroleum Institute so they can produce shiny, definitely agenda-free public education websites.

- Legally, the after-tax profits of a publicly traded corporation belong to its shareholders.

- Corporate executives ultimately sign off on the decision to use money for political influence through trade associations, non-profits, and/or super PACs.

So, in conclusion, API’s website that is attempting to convince shareholders that raising taxes on oil companies will hurt their pension funds, is being paid for by money that should really be converted into dividends going to those pension funds, unbeknownst to and unapproved by 97.2% of the shareholders.

The American Petroleum Institute spent over $39 million on this sort of “public education” issue advocacy in 2010 and has already shelled out $24.3 in this election cycle. By the numbers above, 97.2% of that, or $61.5 million, is ours. Next time, I’ll take the dividend, thanks.

Still worse, we don’t even know which specific companies that money came from. Notable corporations that fund API, like Occidental Oil and Gas Corp, Devon Energy Corp, and Halliburton received an “opaque” rating on the Baruch Index of Corporate Political Disclosure for sharing little or no information on their political spending. Of course, API, like the Chamber of Commerce, is not required to reveal the source of its funding itself.

The good news is, we can know which companies we own and we can make them tell us what they're doing with our money. Across the country, shareholders and the public working in conjunction with the Corporate Reform Coalition are demanding accountability from the corporations that they rightfully own through shareholder resolutions, petitioning the Securities and Exchange Commission, and pushing for state and federal laws to get disclosure requirements up to speed with the post-Citizens United reality.

Some proposals go further and demand that corporations get sign off from their shareholders before they can spend the dough on those nasty attack ads. Best of all, a new kind of shareholder proposal to require complete refrain from using shareholder money for politics has been introduced and will be voted on this season at Bank of America, 3M, and Target.

So, vote your proxies, show up at a rally at a company near you, write to your mutual fund or pension board, and help us keep the companies that we own from using our own money for political jujitsu.

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