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BP's fight against energy nonprofit highlights murky world of advocacy-for-hire

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has surpassed the size of the 1969 Santa Barbara spill and the Exxon Valdez. Here are some other historical spills.

BP was asked to provide $100,000 to the campaign, according to several people familiar with the discussions. Company officials told the group that they liked the idea but that it would be a public relations disaster in the midst of the crisis, according to these sources.

Sources also said BP reached out to the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's main trade group, and encouraged them to provide support for the original idea. Spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel said API did not contribute money to the anti-BP project.

Pyle acknowledged that BP was asked for funding in May but said that it was among "dozens and dozens of companies" approached. He said the "war room" is ongoing as a separate effort, while the advocacy arm is handling the project that has featured anti-BP rhetoric.

Pyle, who is president of both groups, said the advocacy group has shifted its message over the past month away from BP to criticism of Democratic energy proposals. "We are now very focused on the policy issues that could affect domestic drilling," he said.

The anti-BP message has not been completely abandoned, however. A fact sheet sent to group supporters last week included a blistering, 19-point attack on BP's safety record, calling the spill "an instance where one foreign-run company, BP, failed to maintain the industry's accepted safety standards."

The advocacy group declined to reveal who is providing the money for the "Save U.S. Energy Jobs" project or how much it plans to spend on its Web site, advertising and other efforts. The project's media campaign is being handled by CarreƱogroup, a Houston public relations firm that has worked for BP rivals ExxonMobil and Shell, according to the company's Web site. Efforts to reach them for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

ExxonMobil has given at least $300,000 in grants to IER over the years, according to tax records. However, ExxonMobil spokeswoman Cynthia Berger White said the company has not given any money to the research group since 2007 and has not provided support for the recent advocacy campaign. A Shell spokesman did not respond to requests for comment by late Tuesday.

Cornyn's NRSC has received $1.3 million from energy companies and their employees, including BP, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. ExxonMobil and its employees have also ranked as the biggest contributors in recent cycles to Cornyn's personal campaign accounts, records show.

Cornyn spokesman Charles Chamberlayne said the Texas senator is appearing at Wednesday's event in support of its pro-jobs message and against the Obama administration's temporary drilling moratorium. He said that Cornyn was unaware of the group's anti-BP rhetoric but added that the senator has criticized BP's spill response.

"What Senator Cornyn is in support of is jobs in the Gulf Coast and against a moratorium," Chamberlayne said. "That's where he's with them."

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