A home burns as the sun sets behind smoke and flames during the Bobcat Fire on September 18, 2020 in Juniper Hills, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The DCCC’s Top Bundler Is an Oil Lobbyist

in Sludge
on July 22, 2021

Saving the planet from a climate change tipping point that will trigger social collapse and widespread human death from fires, floods, and starvation requires urgent global action. Oil companies are not going to voluntarily stop extracting and burning fossil fuels for profit, so it’s up to politicians and regulators to step in and stop them. 

In the U.S., a portion of the Democratic Party has acknowledged the importance of having policymakers not be captured by the oil industry. More than 40 House Democrats have voluntarily pledged to reject any campaign money from the industry’s PACs, executives, or lobbyists, insulating themselves from the potential influence of those financial favors and demonstrating to voters that they take this issue seriously. 

But the House Democrats’ campaign fundraising arm has embraced oil lobbyist money. So far this year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) largest bundler of campaign funds is Zachary Pfister, a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute (API) trade association that promotes the interests of member companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Marathon Petroleum. Pfister has given the DCCC $148,000 in bundled checks so far this year, according to FEC filings. Since 2018, he has given the group $966,750 in contributions. Bundling checks is a way for lobbyists to attach their names to large sums of money that they can offer as a benefit for the politicians and political party groups they are trying to influence for legislative favors. The money comes from their clients and other individuals and groups in their networks, thereby allowing them to give amounts far in excess of the legal maximum for an individual that is currently set at $36,500 per year. 

Topics Pfister has lobbied Congress on for API include “issues related to offshore exploration,” the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, “workforce development and infrastructure,” and “energy tax issues.” Pfister has also lobbied Congress on multiple bills opposed by API that sought to prevent the federal government from issuing new oil and gas leases in areas including the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

American Petroleum Institute lobbyist and DCCC megabundler Zachary S. Pfister

The American Petroleum Institute is the oil industry’s most powerful lobbying group, with annual revenues of more than $200 million. An article published yesterday in The Nation describes how API works behind the scenes to kill climate legislation on behalf of its member companies that appear to have determined that publicly denying climate science is no longer profitable. 

The nonprofit Oil Change U.S., which organized the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, is urging the DCCC to sever ties to oil industry donors.

“The DCCC should follow the lead of hundreds of Democratic candidates–including all of the major Democratic candidates for President in 2020 and dozens of Members of Congress–and reject the attempted influence of Big Oil lobbyists like Pfister by way of campaign contributions and bundling,” said David Turnbull, a strategic communications director with the group. “The American Petroleum Institute is hard at work trying to block progress on our climate crisis every day. The bundling of campaign contributions by lobbyists for API should be absolutely toxic to anyone committed to addressing our climate crisis, and the DCCC should reject this attempt at influence and get on with electing candidates who will work for the people who elected them and not Big Oil climate saboteurs.”

In some cases, the American Petroleum Institute has worked to re-elect pro-oil Democrats who faced primary challenges from environmentalist candidates. In 2020, the Institute gave $1.3 million to a social welfare nonprofit that aired television ads promoting oil industry ally Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) who faced a challenge from progessive Jessica Cisneros. Cuellar was endorsed by then DCCC chair Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and ended up narrowly defeating Cisneros and then being re-elected to Congress.

According to the website of his employer Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, and Schreck, Pfister “leverages his experience having served for moderate members of Congress from competitive districts to engage vital decision-makers who make or break legislation.” Before becoming a lobbyist, Pfister worked in the offices of Blue Dog Coalition members Brad Ellsworth and Larry Kissell. His other clients currently include the Plastics Industry Association, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  

The DCCC’s other lobbyist bundlers so far this year are Steve Elmendorf, John Michael Gonzalez, Heather Podesta and David Reid. Clicking on their names will take you to the OpenSecrets lists of their 2021 clients.