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OpenSecrets Blog

Drilling Down: Obama's Charge on McCain's Oil Money


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Here in the Center's press shop, we've fielded a lot of calls today from reporters wondering where Barack Obama's campaign is getting the numbers to back up its latest charge against John McCain: that the Republican is "in the pocket" of the oil industry because his campaign has taken $2 million from it. The TV ad that makes that claim started airing today, and in tiny print it cites as its data source the Center for Responsive Politics (as well as the Washington Post, though the ad doesn't make it clear that CRP and the Post are two separate sources).

Here's what's confusing people: On OpenSecrets.org we show John McCain receiving $1,332,033 from oil and gas interests from the start of his presidential campaign through June 30. (On the same page, we show Barack Obama receiving $394,465, a stat the Obama ad doesn't mention, not surprisingly.) In McCain's case, that's well below the $2 million that Obama is trying to pin on him. So where does that number come from?

It appears the Obama campaign is adding our data from January 2007 through May 2008 (our total then was about $1 million) to a total for June fundraising from oil/gas interests that was reported in the Washington Post on July 27. The Post reported that McCain and the Republican National Committee's Victory Fund raised $1.1 million in June alone from oil and gas executives.

The Victory Fund is a joint fundraising committee that collects large contributions and slices off portions for McCain, the Republican National Committee and various state parties. Not all of the money the Victory Fund collects ends up in McCain's campaign account, although it's all intended to support his candidacy. In CRP's tallies of industry money to McCain, we include only money that's earmarked for his campaign account. (And by that measure, we calculate that he collected $271,265 from oil/gas interests in June, not $1.1 million.)

The Obama campaign's method for calculating the total amount that McCain's campaign has collected from the oil and gas industry may result in some double-counting. Money earmarked for McCain will show up twice on campaign finance reports -- once by the joint fundraising committee and again by the McCain campaign when the money is transferred in -- but it should be counted only once. It will take some time to sort out how much of the cash in this case is double-counted.

By CRP's count, the Victory Fund has collected $976,350 through June from oil/gas interests. It's hard to know how much of that is already included in the $1.3 million that CRP says McCain has collected. If none of the money were double-counted, the total would be about $2.3 million -- $300,000 more than Obama's ad says McCain got.

So what's the bottom line? According to the Center for Responsive Politics -- that's us -- John McCain's campaign had collected $1.3 million from oil and gas interests through June. If you add in the money being collected by the Republican Party to support McCain's candidacy, the total figure could be $2 million, as Obama's campaign claims, or it could be a little less or a little more. But until the accounting is sorted out between the McCain campaign and the Victory Fund, we can't put a precise dollar figure on it.

Good luck fitting all of this into a 30-second TV ad.

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