After a recent visit to the Harding Presidential Site in Marion, Ohio, I was inspired to do a little digging into the past.
Almost one hundred years ago, Big Oil decided it would use the United States government to make massive profits at the expense of the environment.
In 1920, two wealthy oilmen, Harry F. Sinclair and Edward L. Doheny, worked to ensure Warren G. Harding, a little-known Republican senator from Ohio, became president. Sinclair, a major donor to the GOP, earned tremendous influence over Harding as a consequence. Doheny’s reach extended from his oilfields in California to deep into Mexico, where he meddled freely in politics to preserve his oilfields from seizure by the Mexican government.
Thanks to their substantial campaign contributions, when Harding formed his cabinet he agreed to allow Doheny’s old friend, Albert Bacon Fall, to become Secretary of the Interior. Doheny had an ulterior motive for this placement. Fall needed a lot of money to buy a neighboring ranch and to improve his own ranch but lacked the cash. Knowing Fall’s situation, Doheny did a deal. As Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall would work on getting the Naval reserve oil fields for Doheny and Sinclair.
The Naval reserve oil fields were intended for use by the United States Navy in future wars and, as such, came under the control of the Secretary of the Navy. After a little persuasion, they were transferred to Fall’s control and then leased to Doheny and Sinclair, in return for which, Fall received a very nice payoff.
As an indication of the wealth these oilfields generated, the Teapot Dome oil field was worth $495 million in 1920 dollars. The equivalent value today would be almost $6 billion.
Fall was convicted of bribery in 1929 and served nine months of a one-year prison sentence – the first cabinet member ever convicted and imprisoned for a major crime committed while in office. Doheny and Sinclair were acquitted of charges of bribery and criminal conspiracy, but Sinclair spent 6 ½ months in prison for contempt of court and contempt of the U.S. Senate.
Fast forward to 2017 and we still see the tremendous influence Big Oil has in government. Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon-Mobil, is our Secretary of State. President Trump has repealed a regulation that would have required energy companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments. This legislation is part of an aggressive deregulation effort that Trump’s administration and the GOP-controlled Congress are undertaking to roll back rules on fossil fuel companies that have “suffered” for the last eight years. The regulation’s original intent was to fight corruption in resource-rich countries by mandating that companies listed on American stock exchanges must disclose the royalties and other payments oil, natural gas, coal and mineral companies make to governments.
The similarities between Presidents Harding and Trump don’t stop there. When Trump signed off on the budget conferring tax subsidies on Big Energy companies, House Speaker Paul Ryan stood by Trump’s side. Senatorial disclosure documents show Speaker Ryan and his wife own stakes in four family companies that lease land in Texas and Oklahoma to the same energy companies benefiting from the tax subsidies in Ryan’s budget plan. These energy giants will profit from $45 billion in subsidies and tax breaks.
Also present in the Oval Office that day was House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas). Hensarling said on May 20, 2014, in a speech to The Heritage Foundation:
“‘Crony capitalism’ is something different. With crony capitalism, success is arranged through government-granted favors to those with the best political connections. ‘Crony capitalism’ slows economic growth and redistributes income. It can breed corruption and undermines the legitimacy of both government and free enterprise. It is what I call the ‘Washington insider economy.’ But regardless of its name, for generations it has been a threat to our conservative principles.”
In looking at how much Speaker Ryan and his family stand to gain from the budget deal signed by Mr. Trump, it’s hard to find a more perfect example of crony capitalism. Yet Hensarling remained silent on the issue. In fact, Hensarling received $61,350 in campaign contributions from the oil industry. Birds of a feather stick together with Big Oil or so it seems.
Almost one hundred years have passed since the Harding administration’s Teapot Dome Scandal. Back then, dedicated public servants worked hard to uncover the corruption and made certain those responsible were punished. Today, under Trump’s watch, it is blatantly obvious that corruption in high places has gone into overdrive. Dare we hope for similar convictions?
Bio: Cindy A. Matthews is a freelance writer, novelist and editor of Our Revolution Continues blog: http://bernie2016.blogspot.com.