Who's To Blame

Obama Ad Pins High Gas Prices on Romney, ‘Candidate of Big Oil’

Obama’s new campaign ad accuses Romney of standing with Big Oil. Is that accurate? Daniel Stone reports.

Democrats have tried, in several ads over the past few weeks, to go on the energy offensive, pinning the blame of high gas prices on oil companies and specifically Mitt Romney. He is, Democratic groups argue, the candidate that most energy companies want to replace Obama in order to protect their lucrative subsidies and approve new areas for drilling.

But now Obama himself is going after Romney for his ties to Big Oil. In the Obama campaign’s latest ad, the president defends his record of new oil production, new mileage standards, and new renewable-energy projects by accusing Romney of protecting oil subsidies and opposing higher fuel-efficiency standards.

Why is Big Oil attacking President Obama, the ad asks? “Because he’s fighting to end their tax breaks, he’s raising mileage standards and doubling renewable energy. In all these fights, Mitt Romney stood with Big Oil—for their tax breaks, attacking higher mileage standards, and renewables.”

“So when you see this ad,” the announcer says, flashing a screen shot of an anti-Obama ad paid for by the conservative American Energy Alliance, “remember who paid for it and what they want.” (Translation: “Don’t believe it.”)

Is it a fair argument?

Mostly, yes. Romney has avoided any discussion of eliminating oil subsidies. His campaign hasn’t commented on the charge from Obama that he supports keeping those subsidies in place, although he has spoken in favor of reducing the corporate tax rate (currently 35 percent), which would benefit those companies rather than punish them.

It wouldn’t be fair to say Romney has “fought” to protect oil subsidies, as other ads from progressive groups have done, because Romney isn’t in public office and holds no legislative authority. But Obama’s ad says Romney has “stood” with Big Oil—a semantic difference that should be noted for its accuracy.

On renewable energy, Obama’s words stick to the current Romney, but not the past one. As governor in 2003, he created the Massachusetts Green Energy Fund to form “clean-energy-technology companies” that would “focus on job creation in the renewable-energy sector.” But now he blasts renewables as “sharply uncompetitive” and charges that they “might actually hurt employment more than help it.” He has supported expanding nuclear energy, which is considered “clean” in that it doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, but not “renewable,” so the charge that he has resisted new renewable development is a fair one.

Yet Obama doesn’t get off entirely clean. The president falters when he touts his record on expanding domestic oil. U.S. production is indeed up under the Obama administration (at an eight-year high, in fact). But the credit is not all his. Oil production usually works on a system of five-year leases, which means that most of the oil produced today was approved in the final years of the Bush administration.

Energy is certain to be a central campaign issue, especially as fuel prices continue to increase before the summer travel season. So expect more ads like this. Both sides argue they’re on the side of the pained consumer, struggling to afford ever-more-expensive gas and air conditioning. Yet the facts on this one, however cherry-picked to self-serve, seem to back up the president’s argument.