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A longtime conservative from Texas, Rep. Joe Barton rocketed onto the national spotlight by famously apologizing to BP during a June hearing for what he called a “shakedown” of the company after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. His sharp words surprised few longtime observers, who know the Texan as a strong ally of the oil and energy industry.

Barton, 61, took office in January of 1985. He has been re-elected safely every year since in the Lone Star state’s 6th District, which covers the area just south of Dallas. In 2004 he was named chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has broad responsibility for matters relating to commerce, public health, and marketplace interests, in addition to energy policy. During his chairmanship Barton sponsored the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The bill, signed into law by President George W. Bush, contained tax incentives and subsidies for energy companies. Barton lost the chairmanship when the Democrats took the House in the 2006 elections, but has been the ranking member ever since. Republican House rules limit representatives to three combined terms as ranking member or chairman of a committee, but Barton has made no secret of his desire to take over the committee again, and has said he will seek a waiver from the GOP leadership.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Barton has been the top House recipient of campaign cash from the oil industry since 1999. That includes $22,800 from BP over the course of Barton’s career. He has repaid that industry support by authoring numerous provisions to help energy companies nationwide, but especially in his home state of Texas. A climate change skeptic, Barton once told former Vice President Al Gore that he was “not just off a little, you’re totally wrong” on global warming before adding that “global warming science is uneven and evolving.” He has blasted proposed “cap-and-trade” bills, and claims that Obama’s failed energy bill would have “cost millions of jobs.”

The Texas representative has also been against President Obama’s health care law from the start. During debate over the bill, Barton pledged that “If they somehow manage to get the votes and get enough Democrats to walk the plank and commit suicide, in the next Congress, I’ll be chairman Joe Barton of the Energy and Commerce committee, and we’ll repeal it.”

Outside of Energy and Commerce, Barton is the co-chair of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, a bipartisan group dedicated to protecting “individual privacy,” and a member of the Tea Party Caucus. At an event in August, Barton stated that “I was Tea Party before it was cool.” He is also a noted sports fan, having berated then-Bowl Championship Series coordinator John Swofford at a committee hearing for not having a playoff system in college football. “It’s like communism — you can’t fix it,” he said, while threatening to introduce a bill that would bar sports events from labeling something a “national championship” without having a playoff system.

Top PAC contributors

  • National Cable And Telecommunications Association, the principal trade association for the cable industry — at least $40,000
  • Verizon, the telecommunications giant — at least $40,000
  • Koch Industries, the energy giant run by Charles and David Koch, both well known GOP backers — $37,500
  • Comcast, the cable provider — $37,000
  • AT&T, another major telecommunications company — $36,500
  • PACs gave at least $3 million to Barton’s campaign account and his Texas Freedom Fund PAC. Barton received over $1.9 million more in contributions from PACs than from individuals

Revolving door

  • Jeffrey MacKinnon was Barton’s legislative director from 1985-1993 and helped Barton in his role as Deputy Republican Whip. He is now a lobbyist at Ryan, MacKinnon, Vasapoli & Berzok, LLP
  • Cynthia Sandherr was Barton’s legislative director for five years. After a stint at Enron and a role in President George W. Bush’s transition team in 2000, Sandherr now works for Deere and Company
  • Stephen Craig Sayle worked for Barton from 1989-1992 as legislative counsel, and later spent three years as a staffer on the House Energy Committee. He is now a lobbyist for Dow Lohnes PLLC
  • Timothy Day was a legislative assistant from 1987-1991. He is now vice president of Teradata Inc, an analytic technology company, and lobbies on its behalf
  • Joseph Fortson worked as Barton’s legislative counsel from 2003-2004 and is now a lobbyist for Apple, Inc
  • Jeanne M. Haggerty was policy advisor from 2002-2004 and spent two years as a staffer on the House Committee on Energy & Commerce. She spent the past few years as a lobbyist for the Biotechnology Industry Organization


  • Obtained more than three dozen earmarks from 2008 to 2010, totaling at least $204 million according to Taxpayers for Common Sense
  • In 2008, Barton secured a $2 million earmark for Carbon-Carbon Advanced Technologies, a company located inside his district. He secured the firm another $3.2 million in 2010
  • For larger earmarks, Barton has been happy to work in a bipartisan manner. A group of Texan and Louisianan representatives, including four Democrats, helped bring an $88 million earmark for a “National Domestic Preparedness Consortium”


  • Barton was criticized for his role in an influence-buying attempt by Westar Energy that spawned a federal grand jury investigation. According to the government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Barton directed Westar to make contributions to endangered Republicans in exchange for the Texas congressman introducing “an exemption from a federal law as a means of avoiding unwanted regulatory oversight and potentially generating increased income.” The exemption was pulled by Barton when the federal investigation began
  • The Washington Times reported in 2009 that Barton promised to raise up to $400,000 for the Boys and Girls Club and through his charitable foundation. The money was never raised; instead, companies donated directly to the charities in Barton’s name, “essentially bypassing a 2007 congressional requirement that donations from lobbying interests to lawmakers’ charities be disclosed.” Several companies made large donations, including energy giant Exelon. Its donation came around the time that Barton was introducing legislation to help expand the market for nuclear power and Exelon was lobbying to build a nuclear power plant in Texas
  • The Texan has also come under scrutiny for hiring family members to work on his campaign. During the 2006 election cycle, Barton’s campaign paid his wife $57,759 and his daughter $12,622 in salary and bonuses

Campaign pledges

  • Barton wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Times listing his priorities if he were to become chairman. “Our first job will be to find out what’s gone wrong. That’s why the return of vigorous congressional oversight is going to be a top priority for me and the committee next year” he wrote, before listing what topics he would investigate. The list included a promise to force U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Medicare chief Donald Berwick to come to Capitol Hill for more regular meetings with the committee. “When we squeeze out the facts, we can diagnose the problems and begin to fix anything that’s useful and fixable, and we can jettison what isn’t before the administration’s miscalculations do further damage”
  • Barton has said that repealing President Obama’s health care law would be his top priority. “Oversight of the existing law will build a case for full repeal,” he’s said in the past
  • Barton is a supporter for the House GOP’s “Pledge to America” and says it will fix “the forced government-takeover of health care, to cap-and-tax, to the piling up of record deficits and ignoring our nation’s jobs crisis”

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