The capital building as an oil gusher over a red, yellow, and green gradient
iStock, Rebecca Zisser/Insider
  • Democrats who have key roles shaping energy policy also invest in energy companies.
  • They reported holding or trading shares of Exxon Mobil, Dominion Energy, and Chevron, among others.
  • The lawmakers often get accolades for their voting records on green issues.

Nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers with gold-star ratings from a major environmental advocacy group have personal financial ties to fossil-fuel giants and petroleum-focused energy companies, federal financial-disclosure documents show. 

Insider identified 22 House and Senate Democrats — all but one of whom scored at least 92% on the League of Conservation Voters' 2020 environmental rankings — who over the past year reported holding or trading stocks in companies heavily involved with petroleum, coal, and natural gas. 

The tally is part of the exhaustive Conflicted Congress project, in which Insider reviewed nearly 9,000 financial-disclosure reports for every sitting lawmaker and their top-ranking staffers. 

Several of these lawmakers wield power over the energy sector via their committees, including the House Appropriations Committee's energy- or environment-related subcommittees (three members), the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (two), the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (one), and the House Natural Resources Committee (one).  

A plurality (nine) of the Democrats invested in Exxon Mobil. Eight invested in Dominion Energy, while six invested in each of Duke Energy and Chevron.

Other energy-sector leaders that members of Congress invested in during 2020 include BP, ConocoPhillips, Consolidated Edison, Exelon, Shell, and Valero Energy.


Electric companies and Big Oil

Sen. John Hickenlooper, who serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, reported owning up to $500,000 worth of Duke Energy stock during 2020. He sold up to $250,000 worth of Chevron stock in late October 2021, and he reported up to $1 million in capital gains from Exxon Mobil stock he no longer owns. Hickenlooper is the only lawmaker in this bunch without an LCV ranking, as the 2020 scorecard predates his arrival in Congress. 

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, who had an LCV rating of 92% in 2020 and serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, reported owning up to $80,000 worth of energy-related stocks: up to $50,000 worth of Duke Energy stock he held on his own, up to $15,000 worth of Shell stock, and up to $15,000 worth of Chevron attributed to his wife. 

A Carper aide told Insider that a financial advisor handled the family's investments.

"Over a lifetime of public service, Senator Carper is — and always has been — driven solely by a motivation to serve the people of Delaware and their interests," Carper's spokeswoman, Rachel Levitan, wrote in an email. 

Levitan added that Carper had consistently worked to restrict offshore drilling, abolish government subsidies for fossil-fuel companies, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. 

In 2020, Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, who had an LCV rating of 100% and serves on the Natural Resources Committee, reported owning up to $100,000 worth of energy-related stocks: up to $50,000 worth of Chevron, and up to $50,000 worth of Exxon Mobil. 

Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida, who had an LCV rating of 100% and serves on a House Appropriations subcommittee governing energy and water, reported owning up to $45,000 in energy-related stocks: up to $15,000 worth of Exxon Mobil, up to $15,000 worth of Dominion, and up to $15,000 worth of ConocoPhillips. Frankel has continued this year to trade in oil investments.

Frankel told Insider that an independent money manager handled her finances.

"I keep it at an arm's length for ethical reasons," she said, adding, "I have an excellent environmental record and I stand by it."

Like most of Congress, Carper and Frankel have not established a qualified blind trust, a congressionally approved and independently managed financial vehicle that the Senate Select Committee on Ethics describes as "the most comprehensive approach" to "eliminate conflicts of interests and the appearance of them." but can be expensive and initially time-consuming to establish.

Rep. Susie Lee of Nevada, who had an LCV rating of 95% and serves on a House Appropriations subcommittee that controls federal spending on environmental matters, reported owning up to $100,000 worth of Dominion stock. 

Democratic Rep. Susie Lee of Nevada, wearing a green blouse, leads a press conference on Capitol Hill about climate crisis issues and the Biden agenda.
Rep. Susie Lee, a Democrat of Nevada, leads a rally to promote climate benefits in the Build Back Better Act at the US Capitol on Tuesday, September 28, 2021.Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Lee is among 48 members of Congress that Insider and other media organizations identified as having violated the disclosure provisions of the federal Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012, a law designed to promote transparency and defend against financial conflicts of interest among top government officials.

Legacy stockholders

In a few cases, Democrats pinned their association with energy companies on deceased family members. 

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat whose Ohio district snakes along nearly 150 miles of Lake Erie shoreline, is the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. As such, Kaptur has said, she "focuses on efforts to protect the natural resource of Lake Erie."

Kaptur reported owning up to $100,000 worth of stock in Nutrien, a Canadian fertilizer company, in her most recent annual financial filing. Lake Erie has for years experienced algae blooms caused in part by fertilizer runoff.

Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, wearing a long coat on what looks to be a chilly day in DC, addresses a group of sign-waving environmentalists gathered for a pro-Great Lakes restoration rally on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat of Ohio, addresses advocates for Great Lakes restoration programs during a Capitol Hill press conference on March 15, 2017.Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The 20-term congresswoman inherited the stock in December 2020 from her brother who had died, a spokesperson, Chris Dalton, said.

"She does not intend to trade or cash out her deceased brother's gift," Dalton said. "Because the inherited shares are the first she has ever owned during her service, she will look at various options as she resolves the estate. Should other actions be necessary going forward, they will appear in the disclosures in subsequent years as appropriate."

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania is another legacy stock holder. She reported owning up to $50,000 worth of Exelon stock that's been in the family for decades. 

A Scanlon staffer told Insider her husband, Mark Stewart, an attorney, got 25 shares of Philadelphia Electric Company nearly 50 years ago from an uncle who worked there at the time. The aide said Stewart held on to the stock as times have changed — Exelon absorbed PECO in 2000 — but Scanlon has never been involved in that particular investment. 

"The congresswoman's voting record makes clear her strong commitment to environmental issues and protecting our planet for the next generation," a Scanlon spokeswoman, Lauren Cox, wrote in an email. 

LCV scorecard's limits

Emily Samsel, LCV's national press secretary, described her organization's scorecard as "the nationally accepted yardstick" for rating lawmakers' records on environmental, public-health, and energy issues. But Samsel acknowledged that it "does not provide a holistic look at their record outside of the House or Senate floor."

Whether a stock is a family memento or retirement-plan booster matters little to Joshua Silver, the CEO of the anticorruption advocacy group RepresentUs.

Silver said the outlook for environmental and other issues is dire — unless Congress gets serious about cleaning up its act.

"Until we reduce money in politics, change the filibuster and how we vote, we're going to see increases in corruption and inaction on virtually every issue that Americans care about — whether it be ethics or climate change or education," Silver told Insider. "They're all stuck in the same dysfunction."

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