If you're like most Americans, the word "lobbying" probably makes you cringe or roll your eyes or shake your head sadly. It's a game that champions for good causes play, but by and large we equate lobbying with rich, terrible companies having their way at the expense of those less fortunate.

As investors, however, we are taught to check our emotions at the door, so today we are taking a dispassionate look at lobbying in the oil and gas industry (no laughing). We'll begin with the top spenders, move through some industry issues, and finish up with some investing takeaways.

Hey, big spender
Here are the top five spenders in the oil and gas industry through the first quarter of this year:

Rank

Company

Q1 Spend
(Millions)

1

ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM)

$4.84

2

Chevron (NYSE:CVX)

$3.66

3

Koch Industries

$2.61

4

Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY)

$2.05

5

American Petroleum Institute

$2.05

Source: Senate Office of Public Records. 

For the record, Shell is tied with API for fifth place so far this year, if you count lobbying on behalf of one of its subsidiaries, Shell Exploration and Production.

It's still early, and the list above may change slightly by the time December rolls around. Here is a list of the top five spenders for all of last year:

Rank

Company

2012 Spend
(Millions)

1

Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A)

$14.48

2

ExxonMobil

$12.97

3

Koch Industries

$10.55

4

Chevron

$9.55

5

BP (NYSE:BP)

$8.59

Source: Senate Office of Public Records. 

Depending on your level of cynicism, these numbers may surprise you. BP spent only $8.59 million on lobbying last year? That's nothing! According to opensecrets.org, the oil and gas industry spent a cumulative $139.9 million lobbying in 2012 and more than $36 million so far in 2013. For context, that ranks the industry fourth for overall dollars spent on lobbying, after pharmaceuticals/health products, insurance, and electric utilities. ExxonMobil is doing more than its fair share: The company ranks eighth on the entire list of companies that spent money lobbying in the first quarter of this year.

Where does the money go?
If you follow the energy industry, there are certainly a few key issues in the news that can indicate what these companies are spending money lobbying for (or against).

For example, many know about Shell's never-ending quest to pillage subsea oil deposits in the Arctic Circle, so it would be fair to guess that is one issue that received some funds. We can take a closer look at Shell's spending by pulling up some Lobbying Disclosure Act forms from the Senate's database located here.

Sure enough, when we pull up Shell's first-quarter disclosure, the second item on the list reads as follows: "Issues related to air permitting for offshore oil and gas activities; Issues related to permits needed for exploration on Alaska OCS leases."

Again, that's pretty obvious, but what else is Shell lobbying for? Anything and everything. Take a look at the company's first four entries for lobbying activity:

  • FY 2013 appropriations for the Department of the Interior.
  • Issues related to air permitting for offshore oil and gas activities; Issues related to permits needed for exploration on Alaska OCS leases. 
  • Issues related to TSCA Section 8(a) and 8(d) rulemakings on Hydraulic Fracturing industry; General issues related to the Toxic Substances Control Act.
  • Issues related to the economic cost of regulatory uncertainty and complexity, regulatory reform and simplification.

The company's fifth entry, which I have spared you, is a 316-word paragraph covering everything from accessing our offshore continental shelf, to sanctions against Iran, to TransCanada's Keystone XL project.

The investor's take
Shell is certainly not alone in these endeavors, but it's worth examining the LDA forms of your company to see what exactly is going on. Spending a few minutes perusing the LDA forms of your investments every quarter accomplishes a few things. First, it lets you know exactly how much money your company is spending on lobbying, at least in the U.S. ExxonMobil doesn't make a mention of lobbying in its 10-K filing, nor does Chevron, or Occidental. BP and Royal Dutch Shell leave it out of their 20-F filings as well. As a result, investors are clueless, until they turn to this database.

Second, it lets you know what issues management deems important enough to spend millions of dollars on. Money talks, and if the LDA forms don't match up with what management has been preaching, you know there is a problem.

Fool contributor Aimee Duffy has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.