Gore's Oil Money
Roberto Perez, president of the Traditional Authority of the U'wa People, says the struggle over Samore is a symbol of the indigenous rights movement in Colombia. "The key issue for indigenous groups is defending our territory," he said during an interview in early April, when he came to Washington to press the U'wa case. "The Occidental project is an affront to our livelihood, our lives and our culture."
Traditionally a Republican firm, Occidental was linked to the Democrats for many years primarily through Gore's father, Senator Al Gore Sr. The elder Gore was such a loyal political ally that Occidental's founder and longtime CEO, Armand Hammer, liked to say that he had Gore "in my back pocket." When Gore Sr. left the Senate in 1970, Hammer gave him a $500,000-a-year job at an Occidental subsidiary and a seat on the company's board of directors. At the time of his death in 1998, Gore the elder's estate included hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of Occidental stock. The Vice President is the executor of the estate, which still includes the stock and whose chief beneficiary is his mother.
But Occidental's funneling of money to the Gore family doesn't end there. In the sixties, the Gores discovered zinc ore near land they owned in Tennessee. Through a company subsidiary Hammer bought the land for $160,000--twice the amount offered by the only other bidder. He swiftly sold the land back to Al Gore Sr. and agreed to pay him $20,000 a year for mining rights. After receiving his first payment, Gore Sr. sold the land for $140,000 to Gore Jr., who has received a $20,000 check nearly every year since he acquired it. Strangest of all, Occidental has never actually mined the land. Al Jr.'s coffers swelled further in 1985 when he began leasing the land to Union Zinc, an Occidental competitor. (For a full account of the Gore-Occidental relationship, see The Buying of the President 2000 by Charles Lewis and the Center for Public Integrity.)
According to Neil Lyndon, who worked on Hammer's personal staff and ghosted his memoirs, Witness to History, the Occidental chieftain was as cozy with Gore Jr. as he was with Gore Sr. When he came to Washington, Hammer regularly met Gore for lunch or dinner. "They would often eat together in the company of Occidental's Washington lobbyists and fixers who, on Hammer's behest, hosed tens of millions of dollars in bribes and favours into the political world," Lyndon writes. Gore also hosted Hammer for Ronald Reagan's second inaugural and won him a prominent spot when George Bush was sworn in as President in 1989.
Hammer's death the following year did not end the back-scratching between Occidental and Gore. In 1992 Occidental loaned the Presidential Inauguration Committee $100,000 to help pay for the ceremony. Four years later, the company gave $50,000 in soft money to the Democrats in response to a phone solicitation from Gore. All told, Occidental has donated nearly half a million dollars in soft money to Democratic committees and causes since Gore joined the ticket in 1992. For his current presidential run, Gore has raised $92,000 from the oil and gas industry. Occidental is his number-two donor in that category, with company executives and their wives donating $10,000 to fuel Gore's campaign.
Occidental's investment in Gore has paid rich dividends. In late 1997 the Vice President championed the Administration's $3.65 billion sale to the company of the government's interest in the Elk Hills oilfield in Bakersfield, California, the largest privatization of federal property in US history. On the very day the deal was sealed Gore gave a speech lamenting the growing threat of global warming. Gore also maintains a close friendship with Occidental CEO Ray Irani. In 1996 the latter spent the night in the Lincoln Bedroom. Two days later his company donated $100,000 to the DNC. In 1994 Irani traveled with Commerce Secretary Ron Brown on a trade junket to Russia. Four years later, Irani was invited to a state dinner at the White House for Colombian President Pastrana.