The embattled oil and gas giant BP paid for a slew of travel and dining arrangements for senior government officials in the years leading up to the massive oil leak in the Gulf. Critics say BP got too close with regulators, neutering the government's safety watchdogs.

The Washington-based newspaper The Hill revealed a series of BP-funded trips after a review of files at the Office of Government Ethics.

Among the more notable was a BP-sponsored trip to Alaska for officials of the Food and Wildlife Service, which involved “maintenance of video surveillance at polar bear den” and a “polar bear study.”

The paper adds:

In June 2004, BP paid for meals and airfare for a trio of Interior Department officials, including then-deputy secretary J. Steven Griles, while they visited an offshore oil rig off New Orleans, La. BP split the cost with the National Ocean Industries Association.

Griles later pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for his involvement in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

In February 2005, then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton and then-Minerals Management Service (MMS) Director Johnnie Burton attended a dedication ceremony for BP’s Thunder Horse oil rig off the coast of Texas. BP paid for travel and meals for the officials.

BP also paid for airfare and lodging in 2006 and 2007 for a trip by officials from the Fish and Wildlife Service to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, for “maintenance of video surveillance at polar bear den” and a “polar bear study,” according to documents. 

In August 2004, six EPA officials attended a meeting on Alaska’s North Slope near Prudhoe Bay, where they stayed at BP facilities. In 2006, BP was responsible for a large oil spill in Prudhoe Bay.

Former government officials are also an important part of BP's efforts to keep regulators and Congress at bay.

"In the first three months of this year alone, the company at the heart of the current crisis, BP, has hired at least 27 lobbyists who formerly worked in Congress or the executive branch," Huffington Post's Sam Stein noted Wednesday. "The revolving door between the oil giant and elected office is spinning fast -- so much so that good government officials are hard-pressed to name a comparable organization with that much institutional clout on tap."

"In the first three months of 2010 -- the three months that immediately preceded the explosion of its Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig -- BP spent more than $3.8 million dollars on lobbying the federal government," Stein added. "The cash was spread around seven prominent lobby shops within the D.C. area (including BP's own internal operation), who in turn employed 39 lobbyists to help the company push its legislative interests. That nearly 70 percent of those hired guns have experience in elected office doesn't surprise good government officials because those are after all the most sought-after hires on K Street."

BP also hired a spokeswoman this week who served in the Bush Administration.

Anne Womack Kolton, former head of public affairs at the Department of Energy and Cheney's onetime campaign press secretary, took over BP's public relations message this week.

While at Cheney's side, Kolton defended the secrecy of the Vice President's Energy task force, a group which held secretive meetings with energy company executives. When the General Accounting Office -- the research arm of Congress -- sued the Administraton for records relating to Cheney's meetings, Kolton (then Womack) was at his side.

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