Obama, Clinton spar over energy policy, industry donations

After Barack Obama made a brief swipe at his opponents during a speech on energy, the Clinton campaign came back hard.

Published April 25, 2008 10:14PM (EDT)

On Friday, Barack Obama was in Indianapolis to deliver a speech on energy policy. Not surprisingly, considering his typical message on the subject, a major theme the Obama campaign highlighted was a "broken system in Washington" that's happened because politicians let "lobbyists use their clout to get their way." During the speech, Obama used that theme to get in a brief swipe at his opponents, saying:

The candidates with the Washington experience -- my opponents -- are good people. They mean well. But they've been in Washington for a long time, and even with all that experience they talk about, nothing has happened. This country didn't raise fuel efficiency standards for over thirty years. So what have we got for all that experience? Gas that's approaching $4 a gallon -- because you can fight all you want inside Washington, but until you change the way it works, you won't be able to make the changes Americans need.

Apparently, Hillary Clinton's campaign took those remarks personally. In a statement e-mailed to reporters, Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said:

Sen. Obama might say he doesn't take contributions from oil companies, but he took more money last month from oil company executives than any other candidate. He might say he'll stand up to the oil companies but he's the only candidate who voted for the Bush-Cheney energy bill that was written by energy lobbyists and has been called the best energy bill corporations could buy.

With gas prices this high, talk is cheap. The American people need solutions.

To be fair to Obama, he took more money period last month than any other candidate, so it's no surprise he'd take more money from one particular sector. But Singer did include in his e-mail a link to a recent Los Angeles Times article showing how much Obama has taken in from oil company executives (and employees, which Singer also didn't mention): $263,000, to be exact, with $46,000 of that coming last month. An additional $50,000 was raised at a fundraiser hosted in part by one executive and his wife. (Also, don't forget that Obama has taken in massive amounts of money generally -- proportionally, these donations account for very little of his total.)

The candidate herself responded to Obama's speech as well. At a town hall in Indiana, she said:

Earlier today my opponent attacked me on energy issues. He claimed he would take on the special interests. But we've heard him say that before, but he voted [differently], which I think is always the way to figure out where somebody truly stands...

When it came time to stand up against the oil companies and stand against Dick Cheney's energy bill, my opponent voted for it and I voted against it. And that bill had billions of dollars in giveaways to the oil companies. It was the best bill that the energy companies could buy.

I know that my opponent has run ads claiming that he does not take money from oil companies. Well no one does. It's illegal. It's been illegal for 100 years to take money from oil companies.

Then my opponent puts up an ad saying he doesn't take money from oil company [political action committees]. In March, he took more money from oil company executives than any candidate, Republican or Democrat. So I think it's important for you to know the facts.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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