Mary Landrieu and All That JAZZ

The Louisiana senator says she’s pro-energy, but her PAC has raised a lot of money to elect opponents of the oil and gas industry.


Dec. 19, 2013 6:36 p.m. ET
Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu rolled out her pitch for a fourth term in an interview with the Times-Picayune in April. “I’m indispensable,” she told the New Orleans newspaper, noting that her pull in the Senate would “secure for Louisiana a significant and reliable string of revenue.”

As usual, Ms. Landrieu was talking about her efforts on behalf of Louisiana’s oil and gas sector, the bedrock of the state’s economy. She claims to be her party’s fiercest advocate for that industry, and she talks extensively about her support for the Keystone XL pipeline, her opposition to industry taxes and her desire to rein in EPA regulations.

In the Times-Picayune interview, Ms. Landrieu emphasized her intentions to expand oil and gas production and speed up royalty payments to her state, hinting at greater influence in 2015 as potential chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Behind the scenes, however, Ms. Landrieu has been working just as hard to make sure she’s irrelevant. Through the auspices of JAZZ PAC, her leadership political action committee, she has from 2006 to 2012 contributed some $380,000 to re-elect some of the most ardent Senate opponents of the oil and gas industry. One result is a bloc of liberal members who easily cancel out Ms. Landrieu’s votes and guarantee the defeat of legislation designed to help Louisiana.

The ‘pro-energy’ senator’s PAC has bankrolled anti-energy candidates. Associated Press

This data, compiled from public records, come courtesy of a new nonprofit, Keep Louisiana Working, which was formed earlier this year to take a hard look at political incumbents and whether their actions help or hurt the local economy. “We were stunned to see the amount of money that energy companies contributed to JAZZ PAC that ended up going right out the backdoor to help finance the campaigns of politicians who represent the liberal, anti-energy industry sector wing of the Democrat Party,” says Emily Cornell, the nonprofit’s executive director. “There’s a saying, ‘if you want to know someone’s priorities, look at how they spend their money.'”

Leadership PACs are common, and Ms. Landrieu is hardly alone in having one. They allow members of Congress to fund non-campaign expenses, though their primary purpose is letting members pour dollars into other candidates’ campaigns. Since leadership PACs can tap into corporate money, the members who run them are often found pressing industry to show their loyalty by donating.

Ms. Landrieu has taken in more than $1 million in donations since 2004. Energy contributors include Marathon OilMurphy Oil, Sunoco, Coastal Land & Drilling, and lobby firms that do work for energy companies. Ms. Landrieu repays that support by funneling their money into the campaigns of members who routinely vote to undermine Louisiana oil and gas.

An example: In March 2012, Ms. Landrieu’s fellow Louisiana senator, Republican David Vitter, managed to get a vote on an amendment that would have implemented a 2008 offshore drilling plan to allow new oil and gas leases throughout the Outer Continental Shelf. Ms. Landrieu voted for the amendment.

But JAZZ PAC helped finance Democrats who defeated the Vitter amendment by 12 votes. Of the 48 Democrats who voted against Louisiana oil and gas that day, JAZZ PAC had contributed to 37 of them—more than $300,000 in total.

Ms. Landrieu’s JAZZ PAC has given money to that small handful of Democrats who occasionally (though not reliably) vote in favor of better energy policy—Alaska’s Mark Begich or Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, for instance. But the bulk of her donations are to members who are implacable opponents of what she claims is her top Senate priority.

JAZZ PAC has given $10,000 to California’s Barbara Boxer, who in September railed on the Senate floor against approval of the Keystone pipeline. She’s given $15,000 to Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, a fan of more oil and gas taxes.

She’s given $12,500 to New Jersey’s Robert Menendez, who sent a letter this March, signed by seven fellow Democrats, opposing any bipartisan effort to expand drilling. Of the eight signers, JAZZ PAC had contributed to seven. Florida’s Bill Nelson, Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, Illinois’s Dick Durbin, Maryland’s Ben Cardin : Name an anti-oil-and-gas Democrat, and JAZZ PAC has helped get him elected.

“There are a lot of liberals in the Senate who want to dramatically increase regulations and taxes on oil and gas production—death by a thousand cuts,” says Sen. Vitter. “Funneling campaign money to them helps them do that, helps them kill good energy jobs in Louisiana and around the country. Voting for Harry Reid to run the Senate does that too.”

Ms. Landrieu has become adept over the years at telling Louisianans what they want to hear, even as she provides reliable support for the party’s more liberal priorities—on ObamaCare, spending, and plenty else. Her JAZZ PAC contributions are a truer indication of her beliefs.

Write to kim@wsj.com