Obama Powered by Nukes


Before he withdrew from the Democratic race yesterday, John Edwards doggedly pursued the issue of political donations.

In televised debates, he frequently hammered home the point that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had taken huge sums from the pharmaceuticals industry. In Nevada, he pointed out that Clinton had taken more money than anyone – including Republicans – from coal and gas companies. He made the comment after Clinton took a swipe at Obama for taking money from the nuclear power industry. All of these accusations are true, and they raise significant questions about the candidates’ stated policy positions.

newmatilda.com wanted to know exactly who is taking money from whom, so we asked the Washington DC-based Center for Responsive Politics to crunch some numbers from their massive databases on campaign contributions. They got back to us with a list of the 20 biggest corporate donors from the energy sector – from both the current election cycle, and from 2004.

The results are revealing.

In 2004, the energy sector poured nearly US$2.4 million into the campaign coffers of George W Bush, and threw a meagre US$395,000 at all the Democratic candidates combined.

This time around, the numbers look entirely different. It’s early days yet, but at this point in the campaign the energy sector is giving more to the Democratic candidates than to Republicans. The split is US$485,000 to US$444,000.

But those numbers hide some big surprises.

The single biggest donation from that sector is a whopping US$200,000 to Barack Obama, from a nuclear power company called Exelon Corp. The company also slipped US$1,250 to the now-defunct Rudy Giuliani campaign, and a slightly more serious US$20,000 to John McCain.

Exelon did not give the donation to Obama directly because US campaign finance laws prohibit such large donations from any single entity, and limit individuals to making US$2,000 gifts. The US$200,000 figure is an aggregate of small donations from individuals who work at Exelon. Candidates often deflect questions about corporate campaign contributions by saying that it’s just regular folks making a political statement. But it’s commonly understood that getting their employees to donate is a way for corporations to circumvent the campaign finance laws.

So, who is Exelon, and why are they donating to Obama?

Exelon is a member of a powerful lobby group for the nuclear power industry, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). This is what Clinton was referring to in the Nevada debate when she said that Obama had taken money from a company that had "spent millions of dollars" trying to get approval for a controversial nuclear waste dump in Nevada called Yucca Mountain.

Clearly, the nuclear energy industry is giving early and giving big, which is not surprising given that the US is on the brink of approving its first new nuclear power plants since the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island. Support for nuclear power has traditionally come from the Republicans and the industry will be keen to secure their future under a Democratic President.

Obama has said "we should explore nuclear power as part of the energy mix." Clinton, by contrast, has said she doesn’t believe nuclear power is the answer to climate change. She voted against the controversial 2005 Energy Bill that was slammed by environmental groups as being a honey pot of funding for the energy sector in general, and the nuclear industry in particular. Obama voted for it.

But Clinton is no environmental angel herself. The database reveals that she has taken more money from coal, oil and gas companies than any other candidate. Her top donor in this sector is NRG Energy at US$83,000. While talking up her green credentials, Clinton has consistently voted on bills that favour off-shore oil projects.

As for the Republicans, both McCain and Mitt Romney have taken around $120,000 each from the energy sector. McCain’s biggest donor at US$52,500 is an Arizona power company, Pinnacle, which also owns a nuclear power plant. Romney’s is another nuclear company, Energy Solutions (US$47,900), which specialises in cleaning up nuclear sites and, funnily enough, concluded a deal last December to clean up one of Exelon’s old sites in Obama’s home State of Illinois.

Republican Mike Huckabee is the only candidate who has taken exactly nothing from the energy sector.


Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.