Earlier this year, Tom Donohue, the CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce, described himself and his colleagues as industry's "political reinsurance salesmen." He explained: "We're the people that you could come to. . .when you were in trouble [and we] were going to be there for you." Well, the reinsurance policy that the Chamber sold to BP has been activated in grand form. Here are five ways that the US Chamber of Commerce has shilled for the unpopular oil company since the early days of its Gulf disaster:

  • On Monday, the Chamber pushed for a permanent end to the Obama administration's ban on deepwater oil drilling. Karen Herbert, the president of the Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, said the ban "has had a chilling effect on activity" in the Gulf and shouldn't block" responsible development."
  • This week, the Chamber is lobbying against the SPILL Act, which would overturn an archaic law, the Death on the High Seas Act, that limits the ability of ship passengers (and the families of dead Deepwater Horizon workers) to sue for damages.
  • Last week, a lobbyist for the Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform helped defeat a bill in the Louisiana legislature that would have made it easier for the state's attorney general to sue BP for damages. The bill would have allowed the AG to try the case with the help of private attorneys working on contingency, a privilege that allows AGs in 48 other states to attract top legal talent.
  • In a roundtable discussion held in May by the Christian Science Monitor, Donohue said that Congress should not lift a $75 million cap on BP's liability for the spill. "It's generally not the practice of this country to change the laws after the game," he said. He also complained that oil execs were being "unfairly beat up like unruly children for the TV cameras." And he argued that some of the gusher's cleanup cost would need to be shouldered by taxpayers: "Everybody is going to have to contribute to this cleanup," he said. "We’re all going to have to do it. . . .We’re going to have to get the money from the government and the companies.  And we’ll figure out a way to do that."
  • In early May, the Chamber lobbied hard for an amendment to the Senate's financial reform bill that would create a regulatory loophole for many companies that use derivatives, the risky financial instruments that played a large role in the financial crisis. The loophole would apply to BP.

And the love between the Chamber and BP doesn't stop there. Even before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, the Chamber and its affiliates were working extensively to loosen government controls on the British oil company. In 2006, BP gave $3 million to a 527 group that was created by Allan Zaremberg, the president of the California Chamber of Commerce, to defeat a tax on oil and gas producers that would have funded alternative energy research. And of course, the US Chamber has led efforts to water down carbon caps in national climate legislation—a move that BP supports despite its rhetoric about going "beyond petroleum."
Clearly, though, BP needs the Chamber more now than ever. Any lobbying that BP does in Washington would be useless if not counterproductive at this point, yet the nation's baddest big business bully still inspires fear on Capitol Hill. Still, even the mighty Chamber must ponder how long to defend the most unpopular kid in class. Because when Democrats and Republicans alike are distancing themselves, the Chamber's reinsurance comes at a hefty political price.


A few weeks ago, I wrote a story about how the families of the Deepwater Horizon explosion victims can't really sue for major damages over BP's negligence in the explosion, thanks to an ancient maritime law called the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). The story predicted that while Congress was attempting to remedy that situation with the SPILL Act, one of the biggest obstacles to justice for the rig workers would not be BP but the cruise ship industry, whose passengers occasionally suffer untimely deaths, disappearances and other accidents at sea.

Well, turns out the Love Boat lobby has indeed stepped up to do BP's dirty work in fighting the SPILL Act. Late Tuesday, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) sent a letter to members of the Florida congressional delegation "strongly" opposing the bill because it would allow cruise ship victims to sue the companies for noneconomic damages. That would open the industry up to real liability for all the crime and other bad stuff that happens to hapless passengers. CLIA says the bill would expose it to lawsuits that could prove to be extremely unpredictable, the same line Exxon took in its many appeals of the Valdez lawsuit. CLIA is joined in its campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which naturally is opposed to any law that might make it easier for the little people to sue big corporations that kill them.

How the floating hotel biz will fare is unclear. Lobbying on the other side along with the BP workers' families are the Parents of Murdered Children, the National Center for Victims of Crime, and the International Cruise Victims Association, which is made up of lots of families of people who went on cruises and never came back. They have pretty compelling stories to combat the industry's need for "predictability." But as Kendell Carver, ICA's president, wrote on June 17 to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the cruise ship industry has spent millions to avoid liability for accidents on its ships (some of which seem like the stuff of a summer blockbuster disaster movie). Meanwhile, ICV is an all-volunteer organization with pretty much no money to fight back. We'll see whose influence prevails this afternoon, when the House is scheduled to vote on the bill.

How stupid could BP have been? It drilled a mile beneath the ocean's surface—and punched a hole in the ocean's floor—but had no effective plan in place for dealing with a problem. But it gets worse. It turns out, according to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chair of the House energy and environment subcommittee, that BP's shoddy (and silly) response plan for a Gulf oil spill does not once mention "hurricane" or "tropical storm." That is, it contains no provisions for handling a spill before, during, or after a major storm.

As Hurricane Alex moved through the Gulf on Wednesday, Markey issued a sharply-worded press release and fired off a letter to BP asking why it had overlooked the possibility of contending with a spill in the middle of a hurricane or storm.

From the release:

"The BP plan had walruses in the Gulf, but no hurricanes," said Rep. Markey...."Walruses haven't been in the Gulf in a few million years, while a hurricane is just a few hundred miles from the spill site right now. This is yet another example of BP serial complacency."

At an Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on June 15th, Chairman Markey and others revealed that the major oil companies had response plans that were 90 percent identical, and included references to walruses in the Gulf of Mexico, and emergency contact information for long-deceased experts. The CEOs of the major oil companies testifying admitted that their response plans contained significant flaws, calling them an "embarrassment."

The BP response plan uses the word "weather" in several instances, but never does so in an analysis of extreme weather that could markedly affect response capabilities.

Here are six questions that Markey has put to BP America CEO Lamar McKay:

1) What is BP’s plan for spill response in the event that a tropical storm or hurricane passes over the overall spill area? Does BP have any such a plan or plans for increasing severity of hurricanes? Or does BP plan on simply "playing it by ear"  up to the point at which a full evacuation is required and all spill response operations cease?

2) What does BP expect will be the effects of a tropical storm or hurricane on the damage the oil spill will cause to the environment? How could a storm change the impact of oil in the open ocean and the coast?

3) What is BP doing to prepare for disruption of oil clean up activities due to the impacts of a storm in the Gulf of Mexico? How could a storm impact the clean up of the oil?

4) Does BP have a plan for returning to spill response activities after a tropical storm or hurricane has passed over the spill area? If a hurricane passes over the spill area and spreads oil over large areas of the gulf coast, does BP have a plan for dealing with the combination of oil and general hurricane damage?

5) Last week I asked for information regarding the factors that could lead to delay or disruption of the installation of a better fitting cap. Given reports that Hurricane Alex could delay installation of the cap by one week, please indicate the amount of time delay that you would expect to result from a hurricane or tropical storm passing over the accident site. 

6) Similarly, how would a tropical storm or hurricane affect the drilling of the relief wells? As I understand it, each time a full evacuation of the drilling rigs occurs, 14 days of delay will result. Is this accurate and was this possibility factored into the projected mid-August completion date for the relief wells?

Prepared for walruses, not prepared for hurricanes. This is yet another stark BP failure. But it is also a failure of government regulation. You don't have to be a weatherman to know that storms hit the Gulf of Mexico quite regularly—and that any spill response plan ought to take this into account. Yet no regulator forced BP to do the obvious. And BP, no surprise now, didn't do so on its own.

Amid the flurry of activity at the Supreme Court this week as it prepared to recess for the summer came a decision that dealt a blow to the GOP—as well as to the corporate interests and advocacy groups likely to funnel money into the party. The Court declined on Tuesday to hear a challenge to Republican National Committee vs. Federal Election Commission, which upheld a ban on unlimited "soft money" contributions to political parties for purposes other than backing federal elections.

The RNC, along with other affiliated Republican groups, wanted to be able to use such funds to back redistricting—the redrawing of congressional districts that happens every decade—as well as state elections and grassroots advocacy. The decision to dismiss the case marked a victory for campaign finance reform advocates, who feared that RNC vs. FEC could create yet another opportunity for unfettered corporate and interest group spending in the wake of Citizens United—one that would allow groups to funnel money into the national parties directly, rather than having to attach their names to independent efforts or go through third-party organizations. (And if the DISCLOSE Act, which passed the House last week, fails to pass the Senate, no third-party group would have to reveal its donor list for federal campaign expenditures either.)

Elena Kagan is facing a third day of hearings assessing her suitability for the Supreme Court. For a primer on what to expect from Kagan's GOP inquisitors, see my preview here. And for a compilation of Kagan's best one-liners from yesterday's session, go here. I'm covering the action on Twitter:

When witnesses are called before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan this week, the minority party will deploy a heavy military offensive against her: Republican senators plan to call three former officers who will likely testify that Kagan is a pro-gay, anti-troops, anti-American extremist who barred military recruiters from campus when she was the dean of Harvard Law School.

All lean, clean-cut, and articulate, the three men look to be part of America's best and brightest. But these witnesses aren't typical rank-and-file soldiers: They're paid professional conservative activists.

It was bound to happen eventually: Nevada senate candidate Sharron Angle sat down for a half-hour televised interview last night in Reno in which she tried to come off as someone other than the woman who clobbered the primary's GOP front runners by cornering the wing nut vote. But the Reno NBC station's political reporter, Jon Ralson, wasn't buying it. Ralston pressed her hard about exactly what she meant by people having "Second Amendment remedies" against her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Ralston played the tape of an interview Angle gave with a conservative talk show host back in January in which she sounded a lot like a member of the Oathkeepers (which she wants to be):

You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said, it's good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that's not where we're going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around? I'll tell you, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.

"A lot of people think that's pretty outrageous rhetoric," said Ralston. He wondered if it meant that President Obama was a tyrant comparable to King George III.


US soldiers depart Forward Operating Base Baylough, Afghanistan, on June 16, 2010, to conduct a patrol. The Soldiers are from 1st Platoon, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment. Photo via the US Army by Staff Sgt. William Tremblay.

So what have we learned thus far about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan after a day and a half of congressional hearings? Well, she still thinks her late boss, Justice Thurgood Marshall, is worthy of hero-worship. She doesn't do umpire references. And like most Jews, she probably spent Christmas Day at a Chinese restaurant.

Much to the surprise of the Senate Judiciary Committee interrogating her this week, Kagan has turned out to be very funny. She didn't start out so well. On Monday, she delivered a brief, wooden opening statement, and notably failed to introduce a single family member, friend, or beloved mentor. By comparison, last year, Sonia Sotomayor effusively introduced about 40 of her nearest and dearest godchildren, former employers, cousins, and other relatives in a warm display of humanity. But Kagan hit her stride on Tuesday, when by the end of the day, she actually seemed to enjoy jousting with the likes of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). And once she loosened up, Kagan proved that she may be a focused workaholic but she's no stiff.

As promised, virulently anti-gay activist Peter LaBabera, head of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, has released his shocking expose of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s efforts to “queer” the Harvard Law School campus. Among the damning evidence that Kagan is a radical champion of the homosexual agenda:

--Kagan started an LGBT clinic that handled domestic violence cases in same-sex relationships, among other things.

--Kagan somehow got Harvard to change its health insurance to partially cover sex change operations.

--During Kagan’s tenure, there were conversations between students and faculty about letting transsexuals use the bathrooms of their choice (i.e. letting “she-males” in the ladies room.) No policy changes ever ensued on Kagan’s watch. Apparently having the conversations was enough to prove Kagan’s membership in the gay mafia.

--And then there are the various faculty members Kagan hired to teach “queer theory,” and all the other speakers she brought to campus, including lesbian law scholar and EEOC member Chai Feldblum and gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny.

Gordon James Klingenschmitt, the former Navy chaplain turned anti-gay activist who teamed up on the report, thinks that the Obama administation is "deceiving" Americans into thinking that Kagan is not a lesbian. He says of the report,  "This is further proof Elena Kagan cannot be trusted to impartially rule on Obamacare or bathroom bills like ENDA, since she believes sin is a Constitutional right, but rights come from God, who never grants the right to sin."

Helpfully, the report includes a whole bunch of suggested questions the Judiciary Committee should ask Kagan about her involvement in all of this radical transgender and gay activism. So far, on Tuesday afternoon, none of the senators had yet asked the looming questions about whether Kagan thinks cross-dressers have a constitutional right to use the ladies’ room, but there’s still time. Sen. Tom Coburn hasn’t had a turn yet.