Democrats Target Big Oil Profits In Latest Attack On GOP Senate Candidates

WASHINGTON -- The Democrats' Senate campaign committee is making good Thursday on its promise to try to tar several GOP contenders with their votes protecting tax breaks for oil companies.

A Democratic source said an online campaign will use targeted Google and Facebook ads that coincide with oil companies announcing their latest round of mega profits. The ads, launching in four states, target Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, former Virginia Sen. George Allen, Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake and Montana Rep. Dennis Rehberg, all of whom have opposed ending tax subsidies for oil companies.

"For too long, the GOP has protected multi-billion dollar tax breaks for their big oil contributors. Now oil company profits are soaring and middle-class families are struggling," said Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, referring to reports that all the major oil companies are about to notch record profits, again.

"It's time for Senate Republicans to stop collecting campaign contributions from the industry and then doing their bidding," Canter added in statement to be released with the campaign launch. "Our campaign will rally opposition to Senate Republicans and Republican candidates' policies that put their Big Oil campaign contributors ahead of middle-class families."

In fact, Republicans have gotten vastly more in campaign contributions than Democrats from oil and gas interests, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which found that the GOP has outpaced its rival $123 million to $42 million in contributions from the industry.

Former and current House members on the GOP ticket opposed several efforts in the last Congress to end some $21 billion in subsidies to large oil companies. Allen opposed smaller efforts before losing his Senate seat in 2006.

Besides criticizing the Republican candidates, the ads will ask voters to call the candidates to complain, as well as direct them to a petition to make the point online.

Canter's counterpart, National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh, was unimpressed with the effort.

"Given the fact that it's the Democrats who control the Senate, and it's the Democrats who made the political decision to leave this out of their latest stimulus proposal, this is really an embarrassing and desperate line of attack," Walsh said in an email, referring to the fact that the Senate leadership removed the oil subsidy cut earlier this month from President Obama's $447 billion jobs bill, which failed in the Senate.

The Democrats took it out in hopes of keeping their caucus united. A handful of Democrats represent states with powerful oil interests, and might have opposed it -- which gives a handy rebuttal for the GOP.

"We look forward to hearing what Mary Landrieu [of Louisiana], Mark Begich [of Alaska] and other Senate Democrats who oppose tax hikes on energy producers have to say about their own party strategists accusing them of being in the pocket of 'Big Oil,'" Walsh said. "I have no doubt those quotes will come in handy when each of them faces the voters in 2014" when their reelections come up.

Still, Democrats can point to the much greater dependence on oil companies by Republicans, which prompted them to pursue the campaign.