(NNPA) – The deepening crisis in the Gulf Coast, caused by what is being called the largest oil spill in the nation’s history, has some analysts zeroing in on what they call a systemic history of corporate criminal behavior and weak government accountability.

“BP is a habitual criminal offender and cannot be trusted. The fact they were even allowed to manage this oil spill up to this point in the Gulf is horrendous. The company has one of the worst track records of any oil company operating in America,” said Tyson Slocum, energy policy program director of the progressive group Public Citizen.

At AFRO press time, a BP press release reported that the cost of the response as of June 7 was about $1.25 billion, including the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to Gulf states, claims paid and federal costs.

The company said to date, approximately 37,000 claims have been submitted and more than 18,000 payments already have been made, totaling approximately $48 million. BP has received more than 152,000 calls into its help lines.

Experts have estimated that the rate of oil spill into the Gulf could reach as high as 4.2 million gallons (100,000 barrels) a day.

The Obama administration has placed responsibility for the disaster squarely on the shoulders of the corporation, which has promised to “pay all necessary response costs … legitimate claims for other loss and/or damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon incident.”

“As far as I’m concerned, BP is responsible for this horrific disaster, and we will hold them fully accountable on behalf of the United States as well as the people and communities victimized by this tragedy,” said President Obama at a May 27 press conference.

But Public Citizen’s Slocum said that’s not good enough. “It is clear that Obama’s administration responded too slowly. He needs to fire BP and put this under full federal control. The solutions to this are difficult but he made a mistake entrusting BP with handling this.”

The activist said the company has been less than forthcoming with details about the disaster. “BP is as transparent as oil about the disaster. BP has consistently misled the public about how much oil is gushing from the well. BP must be held accountable and should be subject to permanent sanctions and criminal charges against executives,” he said.

In a letter to BP, Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-Calif.) and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said company investigators failed to keep lawmakers thoroughly informed in a series of briefings about the company’s abrupt decision to use a type of drill casing that was prone to cause more leaks.

“This raises the possibility that BP’s internal investigation is not examining the consequences of BP’s own decisions and conduct,” the two lawmakers said in the letter. Waxman chairs the Energy Committee and Stupak is chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

“Mounting evidence shows that BP was negligent. Firsthand accounts describe BP managers proceeding with work to cap the well, even though they were informed that the integrity of the blowout preventer had been compromised,” said Slocum.

Public Citizen and other progressive groups have been beating the drum for decades about the free ride corporations get when it comes to being held responsible for acts that cause physical, economical and environmental damage. “We should have seen it coming. BP was under criminal probation at the time of the disaster for felony violation of U.S. environmental laws. The government needs to think about the way it punishes corporations because we treat individual offenders harsher than we do these corporate criminals,” said Slocum.

According to research by Public Citizen, in just the last few years, BP has pled guilty to two crimes and paid over $730 million in fines and settlements to the federal government, state governments and in civil lawsuit judgments for environmental crimes, willful neglect of worker safety rules and penalties for manipulating energy markets.

BP paid the two largest fines in OSHA history – $87.43 million and $21.36 million – for negligence that led to the deaths of 15 workers and injured 170 others in a March 2005 refinery explosion in Texas, according to data compiled by Public Citizen.

“The American people should be very concerned and outraged that these corporate criminals keep getting away with these crimes with only fees. The government needs to start punishing them by putting executives in handcuffs,” said Slocum.

Although BP has vowed to cover all related costs due to the spill, federal law currently caps oil companies’ liability at $75 million per spill. Democrats want to raise the cap to $10 billion. “I don’t think BP’s words are anything to rely upon,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “By lifting the cap unlimitedly, whoever is determined to be beyond BP, the responsible party, will also be held responsible.”

According to its annual report, BP made a profit of $17 billion last year, on revenue of $246 billion. First quarter profits in 2010 were over $6 billion.

Based upon data collected by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics, BP has positioned itself to combat the foreseen scrutiny from this spill by financially backing U.S. lawmakers and keeping a strong lobbying arm intact.

An online report posted on the Center for Responsive Politics’ Web site shows that during the 2008 election cycle, individuals and political action committees associated with BP contributed half a million dollars to federal candidates – 40 percent being Democrats. President Obama was reported to be the top recipient of BP-related donations during the 2008 cycle with $71,000 collected.

The center also says BP handed out $16 million to lobby and influence legislation in 2009. In the first quarter of 2010, BP had already spent over $3.5 million on lobbying efforts in D.C., trailing only ConocoPhillips in the top oil and gas interest groups. The entire oil and gas industry reported $169 million in total lobbying expenditures in 2009.

Public Citizen wants to send a clear message to BP by calling on the American people to boycott its gas and retail store products. They launched an online Beyond BP petition and have gathered over 14,000 signatures of support from those who have pledged to boycott the oil giant.

Said Slocum, “Government regulators should have protected us as citizens but they didn’t. So this is a peaceful way of channeling our anger. We want to hit BP in the pocketbook. People should be concerned about the practices of these convicted corporate criminals.”

Jesse Muhammad is a writer for “The Final Call” newspaper.