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Oil Exchange Favors Dodd in Donations

This story was written by CBS News investigative producer Laura Strickler

As the Obama Administration gets ready to crack down on oil speculators, the industry is preparing to fight any new rules and shore up their friends in Congress.

The Intercontinental Exchange or ICE is an electronic marketplace used by those who trade hundreds of millions of oil futures contracts every day through its offices in New York, suburban Atlanta and London. This year ICE has been exclusively generous to the senior Senator from Connecticut, Chris Dodd who chairs the Senate Banking Committee which oversees the nation's financial institutions.

Despite trading in the U.S., ICE is exempt from direct U.S. oversight and some Senators have called for an end to the exemption.

ICE has spent $120,000 this year lobbying Capitol Hill. But it's the use of a seemingly coordinated set of 18 donations to Dodd's campaign on one day -- February 25, 2009 -- adding up to $20,400 that appears to be the most strategic. All campaign donations from ICE employees in 2009 have gone to Dodd according to Federal Election Commission records.

The actions of commodity traders are typically overseen by the Senate Agriculture Committee. But there was talk earlier this year of folding the Commodities Future Trading Commission (CFTC) into a larger new regulatory framework, overseen by Senate Banking run by Dodd.

"Campaign contributions do not and never have influenced Senator Dodd's agenda and priorities," said Dodd's press secretary Bryan DeAngelis in a statement.

"As his record reflects - from working to stop abusive credit card practices and promoting a strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency to opposing industry-friendly bankruptcy reform and tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas - Chris Dodd's priorities are not determined by the financial industry," said DeAngelis.

ICE's offices in Atlanta did not return requests for comment regarding the significance of the seemingly coordinated donations.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is calling for direct oversight of ICE's markets. Today she sent a letter along with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, to the CFTC calling for a closure of the loophole that allows ICE to operate free from direct US oversight.

Cantwell tells CBS News her letter calls for CFTC to "regulate all of these energy markets that operate in the United States so that the American consumer really knows that the energy price is based on supply and demand and not on manipulation or excessive speculation."

ICE has been criticized as Armen Keteyian reported a year ago by those who say that unregulated speculation has caused oil prices to rise by as much as 50%. Nearly all of ICE's trades are settled in U.S. dollars but the market, at least for now, is regulated only in England.

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