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BP flexes muscle in D.C.

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer


WASHINGTON (CNNMoney.com) -- Even before the April 20 explosion on its rig off the Louisiana coast, BP spent millions of dollars lobbying Washington's power players. BP will now tap that power and influence as it tries to repair its image.

In 2009, BP (BP) spent $16 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This year, it has spent $3.5 million through the end of March.

The lobbying firms working for BP are among Washington's most influential, including one headed by Ken Duberstein, a chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan, and another led by Tony Podesta, whose brother was President Bill Clinton's chief of staff.

"They are among the biggest of the big. Consistently, year in and year out, they spend millions in federal lobbying efforts," said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics. "How that will change post-oil spill remains to be seen, but it would be hard to believe their numbers would do anything but go up."

During the 2008 election cycle, BP spent $531,000, through its corporate political committee and in contributions to candidates. So far this cycle, it has spent $113,000, with most of the money going to Republicans.

What do they care about? Last year, BP had more than a dozen lobbyists working on energy legislation, energy jobs bills and derivatives legislation, which impacts the trading of energy futures.

Lobbying reports suggest it spends a lot of time hounding government officials inside the Departments of Interior and Energy. It also lobbies the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Security Council.

"They have a large government relations staff, and they have the budget to work all aspects of government in Washington," said John Pendergrass, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law Institute, a Washington think tank.

Like any corporate giant, BP wants to be able to influence agencies that regulate it, such as the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which is charged with overseeing drilling.

This is not an uncommon goal for private industry. But the oil and gas industry has faced increased criticism after an inspector general report detailed an all-too-cozy culture between MMS and oil and gas industry employees, although no energy company was specifically identified.

Federal workers went skeet-shooting, hunting, fishing, and hit college football games and crawfish boils with oil industry employees, the May 24 report noted.

"Of greatest concern to me is the environment in which these inspectors operate - particularly the ease with which they move between industry and government," wrote Department of Interior Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall to Secretary Ken Salazar in the report.

Another way BP influences federal government is through its role as a major contractor for the military. Three of the past five years, BP has been the largest fuel supplier to the Pentagon, topping out in 2009 with a $2.2 billion contract, according to federal records.

What now? All that power hasn't prevented BP from feeling the need to bulk up in the wake of the oil spill.

As BP defends itself from the barrage of worldwide criticism, it has added staff to its media team, including Anne Womack-Kolton, a former Energy Department employee and campaign press secretary for Vice President Dick Cheney.

The company also hired Washington-based political consulting firm Purple Strategies - instead of a New York firm - to produce its new TV ads, featuring a contrite BP chief executive Tony Hayward apologizing to American families.

They also have a U.K.-based public relations firm called Brunswick Group, with a Washington office that employs Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen.

In addition, BP hired local public relations firms in the four affected states, according to another source familiar with the company's communications strategy.

-- CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash contributed to this report. To top of page

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