Gore Has Major Roots
In Oil Industry

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Democratic Presidential front-runner Vice President Al Gore has nurtured his image as the nation's top environmental advocate, but a close look shows his roots in the oil industry run almost as deep those of his Republican rival, Texas Governor George W. Bush.
So far in the race, Gore has accepted more than $80,000 in campaign money from energy industry contributors according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a Washington political campaign watcher. The gifts have led some environmentalists to criticize Gore and the administration he serves for backtracking on policy commitments.
But many are reluctant to criticize, fearing a Bush Presidency would be worse. Indeed, Bush has powerful backing from the energy sector, and a record as governor which Texas environmental groups say heavily favors the industry.
According to the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition in Austin, Texas, Bush essentially allowed industry heavyweights including Exxon Corp. to write their own lax rules about oil and chemical plant pollution.
And Bush collected $1.5 million in the 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial elections from companies that had been facing pressure to reduce high toxic emissions at aging Texas oil refineries, according to a Los Angeles Times study.
SEED says the companies involved in forming that legislation contributed a combined total of more than $500,000 to Bush's gubernatorial campaign last year and to the presidential fund up to March 1999. If elected, Bush would face the same issue nationally when considering a new Clean Air Act.
When asked if such donations represent a conflict of interest, Mindy Tucker, a Bush campaign spokeswoman, said, ''Governor Bush makes decisions based on what's best for Texas, and he will make decisions based on what's best for the country if he becomes president.''
By mid-July of this year Bush had lassoed nearly $1.2 million in individual contributions originating from fossil fuel companies, which doesn't include oil money via Political Action Committees (PAC) and other sources, according to CRP.
Gore doesn't accept PAC money, but his pot of $80,000 from individual contributions in fossil fuel companies means he is poised to surpass the $130,000 President Bill Clinton gathered in like donations during the last presidential race.
Though small compared to Bush's war chest, it is remarkable for the man who wrote that car exhaust is ``a mortal threat to the security of every nation, that is more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever again likely to confront,'' in his best-selling book ``Earth in the Balance.''
Acceptance of large amounts of fossil fuel money by the front-runners should come as no surprise since both men's fathers were oilmen.
When Al Gore Sr. lost his U.S. Senate seat in 1970, legendary businessman Armand Hammer tapped him as president of Occidental's Island Creek Coal, then the nation's third largest coal mining concern. Later, Gore Sr. made $750,000 annually as a vice president and board member at Occidental Petroleum.
``Gore Senior had never been rich 'till he worked for Hammer,'' author Edward Jay Epstein of the book ``Dossier; The Secret History of Armand Hammer,'' told Reuters.
In 1966, Gore Sr. brought Hammer and Libya's King Idris together, an event that led to Occidental's biggest concession -- a billion-barrel Libyan oil field.
Hammer died in 1990, but Ray Irani, Occidental's current chief executive officer, for years one of country's highest paid corporate executives, has been no stranger to the White House. In election year 1996, Irani donated $100,000 of 'soft money' to the Democratic National Committee.
The gift came just two days after Irani slept in the White House's Lincoln Bedroom, a practice Attorney General Janet Reno investigated.
Shortly after the Irani gift, Occidental bought the majority share of the former Navy oil reserve Elk Hills from the federal government for nearly $4 billion. Gore's red tape slashing National Partnership for Reinventing Government facilitated the deal, according to the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based think tank.
And with the first primary election still some six months away, employees at Occidental Petroleum top the list of Gore's oil donors, giving the Gore campaign $7,000.
Gore campaign spokesman Roger Salazar, said Gore's donors ''come from a wide variety of different backgrounds.''
Bush's top donations include oil kingpins Koch Industries Inc., whose employees have given $28,500, Bass Brothers Enterprises, who have given $22,000, and $10,250 from Exxon Corp.
And Houston law firms that represent oil companies have splurged on Bush. Vinson and Elkins, the city's largest law firm, donated $173,000, while Baker and Botts, former Secretary of State James Baker's firm, has donated $12,300. Bush also received $31,500 from energy investment bankers Howard Weil Labouisse.
Many environmentalists are slow to criticize Gore who they see as their best hope. ``A few thousand dollars has little or no impact,'' said Sierra Club political director Dan J. Weiss. ''Regardless of the money, Gore still pursues issues in opposition to the oil industry, such as reducing sulphur in gasoline.''
But the money makes others wary. ``Any politician trying to raise sums of money from the oil industry and at the same time promising to be an environmentalist invites scrutiny,'' said Peter Kelley a global warming analyst for the National Environmental Trust.
``It's a classic case of conflict of interest,'' said Ellen Miller a campaign reform advocate for Public Campaign in Washington, D.C. ``If Gore doesn't realize it now --that you can't take money from anti-environmentalist interests and not feel the pressure on policy making-- he'll realize it if he becomes president.''