As chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman has been in the middle of the contentious debate over climate regulation and legislation. Bingaman has long been the Democrats’ leading voice on issues concerning energy production and consumption. The 67-year-old has been the top Democrat on the committee since 1999, serving as chairman from 2001-2003 and again since 2007.
Bingaman rose quickly through the ranks of New Mexico politics, winning a 1978 race for attorney general before being elected to the Senate four years later by defeating former astronaut Harrison Schmitt. Bingaman’s wife Anne, a lawyer — as is he — served as assistant attorney general for antitrust under President Bill Clinton. Sen. Bingaman has been re-elected four times, and won his last race, in 2006, with a comfortable 71 percent of the vote.
The Energy and Natural Resources Committee covers a wide range of topics, from regulation of mineral leasing, mining and appliance standards to overseeing national oil reserves and water resources. Bingaman is a noted champion of controversial “cap-and-trade” proposals to curb green house gases that could lead to climate change, and has generally taken stances that push for renewable energy. In 2007, he spearheaded the passage of the first major fuel-economy standards for cars since 1975 and nearly succeeded in getting the Senate to pass a bill requiring utilities to generate 15 percent of their energy by renewable resources. Bingaman also put a notable provision into the stimulus bill that awarded tax credits for the construction of renewable energy facilities.
Outside of the energy realm, Bingaman, as a border-state senator, has also been active on immigration issues. He favors a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that includes both tougher enforcement and a path to citizenship for those in the United States illegally, and he voted against a bill to make English the nation’s official language. In 2009 he was a reliably Democratic vote and was ranked as the 31st most liberal senator by National Journal.
Not surprisingly, many of Bingaman’s donors are related to the energy business, and many of his former staffers have gone on to lobby on behalf of energy interests. However, Bingaman has raised the relatively modest sum of just over $266,000 from political action committees since 2007, fueling discussion that he is mulling retirement rather than gearing up for a potentially tough re-election race. Bingaman himself has indicated he is considering retirement, but says he has not made a decision.
Top PAC Contributors
- American Wind Energy Association, a trade association lobbying on behalf of wind energy companies — at least $10,000
- GenOn Corp., the electricity company formed by a merger of Mirant and RRI energy — at least $7,500
- Nine different companies, including Apache Corp., an energy and gas exploration firm, and natural gas giant Chesapeake Energy Corp., each contributed at least $5,000
- PACs gave at least $266,000 to Bingaman’s campaign account
- James J. Bonham spent two years as Bingaman’s communications director. He’s now a managing director at Steptoe & Johnson and lobbies for a diverse group of clients including the Torture Victims of Iraq and Del Monte Foods
- Annie Chavez was legislative counsel for Bingaman and now works as a lobbyist for the U.S. Telecom Association
- James Dennis was counsel to Bingaman from 2001 to 2006 and now works for the Palmetto group on behalf of clients including Puget Sound Energy and Tyco International
- Matthew Schneider is a managing director for Garvey Schubert Barer, where he lobbies for, among others, the Local Government Coalition for Renewable Energy. He was Bingaman’s chief of staff
- Patrick Von Bargen, who was chief of staff for Bingaman from 1987 to 1999, works for Quinn Gillespie & Associates and represents clients including electric-car manufacturer Coda Automotive and clean power company Satcon Technology
- Bernard Toon was chief of staff for Bingaman and is now a lobbyist for the First Group. Among his clients are electric giant Southern Company and the United States Telecom Association
- Between 2008 and 2010, Bingaman obtained more than $558 million in earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense
- In 2010, Bingaman obtained more than $120 million, including a $1.6 million earmark he and two Senate colleagues secured for General Motors to develop a new Air Force vehicle. General Motors Company PAC has donated at least $2,000 to Bingaman over the past four years
- Bingaman helped nuclear-energy producer General Atomics obtain a 2010 earmark for $5 million for a high-speed test track at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, N.M.
- In 2008 he helped Lumidigm, an Albuquerque-based technology company, receive $2 million to develop a fingerprint capturing device for the army