And Alabama politicians, like virtually any, like money.
Two days ago, The Star’s Tim Lockette reported that an employee PAC for the company donated to a number of the state’s Montgomery lawmakers — including Gov. Robert Bentley — and its Washington delegation in recent months. Among them are Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, and Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile. Most of the contributions are small. The largest is a $3,000 check to Sessions. In the monied world of state and national politics, that’s small potatoes.
Lockette’s reporting also showed that donations went to Republicans and Democrats. But one politician, recently elected U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, a Republican, returned the money.
Today, images of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill remain vivid in the minds of many Alabamians, particularly those whose homes or livelihoods were damaged by the disaster. Nevertheless, contrast that with this comment that a number of the state’s elected officials seemed to say, in unison, about BP and its place in Alabama politics:
“They’re a good corporate citizen,” said Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur.
“BP, they’re a good corporate citizen,” said House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.
“They’ve been a good corporate citizen of our district,” said state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.
It’s understandable that the BP employee PAC donations have created a quasi-furor in Alabama over their appropriateness. For some, BP money is toxic today and will remain so for a long time, if not indefinitely. BP’s reparations can’t change those opinions. (It’s not an apple-to-apple comparison, but consider the efforts Eastman, formerly Monsanto and Solutia, has made to cleaning environmental pollution in west Anniston.)
However, the larger picture has more to do with the state of Alabama politics than it does BP’s repaired image. Elections are expensive. There is no cap on corporate campaign contributions in the state. And Bentley, for example, who’s running for re-election, has more than $2 million in his war chest, far more than either any Republican or Democratic challenger thus far.
Politicians’ unquenched thirst for campaign cash makes money from once-tainted brands such as BP invaluable. Turning it down, even in miniscule amounts, won’t happen often.