Earlier this summer, oil billionaire Harold Hamm called for Donald Trump to drop out of the presidential race. He made contributions to the presidential campaigns of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and questioned publicly whether Trump could beat President Biden in the 2024 election.
Donald Trump pitches oil and gas barons to line his campaign coffers
Then late last month, Hamm showed up at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., brought a $200,000 check for a pro-Trump super PAC, and attended a private meeting with Trump and an intimate fundraiser with the former president, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe donations and private meetings.
The reversal came as Trump and his team aggressively court donations from the oil and gas industry, one of the main beneficiaries of his time in the White House. Over the course of four years, the Trump administration weakened or wiped out more than 125 environmental rules and policies, many of them designed to limit planet-warming emissions from fossil fuels. Biden, by contrast, has reversed many of Trump’s policies and enacted dozens of measures aimed at moving the nation away from oil, gas and coal.
Hamm, executive chairman of the oil giant Continental Resources, did not respond to a request for comment. A person with knowledge of Hamm’s thinking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly, said the Oklahoma businessman realized that Trump was going to be the nominee and efforts to stop him were going nowhere.
In recent weeks, Trump and his team have targeted donors from the oil and gas industry by holding two large events in Texas and calling some of the country’s richest executives. The campaign’s pitch has been straightforward: Trump is going to be the GOP nominee, so these donors should get on board now.
“Trump 2024 is actively courting the right people and trying to get them on board, but specifically the oil industry,” said Dan Eberhart, an oil executive who is supporting DeSantis. “They know who they need to get on the Trump train, and they’re doing what they need to do to get those folks.”
Eberhart and others said DeSantis had also cultivated donors from the energy industry and held large fundraisers in Texas, and that he believed the donors were “split” between the two men.
Last week, nearly 400 wealthy Texas donors — many from the oil and gas industry — piled into the compound of telecommunications billionaire Kenny Troutt, with some paying $23,200 to snap a picture with Trump. Another fundraiser in the state attracted a set of wealthy oil donors.
Trump’s talking points at recent fundraisers have included a lot for oil barons to like, according to people who have attended these sessions. He has railed about electric cars, falsely claiming that the batteries often break down. He usually goes on a riff about wind turbines, a renewable energy source that he has falsely linked to cancer. He claims that solar panels are ineffective and argues we need to drill for much more oil underneath the United States.
At a recent fundraiser in Texas, Trump vowed to open up more federal lands to drilling, support pipeline projects such as Keystone XL, and reinstate oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, attendees said. He talked of eliminating electric vehicle mandates, dismantling environmental regulations and crushing liberal climate policies such as the Green New Deal.
In private, he has mocked climate change, according to people who have met with him. He has previously called global warming a “hoax.”
He sometimes will get into technical minutiae in a way he doesn’t always on other subjects, talking about the myriad benefits he sees of fracking.
In other words, he promises the oil executives what they want. “We are going to drill for so much oil,” he said at a rally on Wednesday in Florida. “We are going to drill, baby drill.”
“Trump was good on energy, and I think energy policy under Trump would be fine,” said Eberhart, who continues to support DeSantis.
Environmentalists say they’re not surprised by oil donors’ embrace of Trump, whose climate legacy they describe as disastrous. In addition to axing environmental rules and denying global warming while in the White House, Trump withdrew the United States from the landmark Paris climate accord.
“There aren’t enough hours in the day to discuss how horrific the former president’s record is when it comes to climate change, clean air, clean water and public lands,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters. “So the fact that Big Oil is coming back to him is perhaps not surprising.”
Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman, responded: “As President Trump has said on the campaign trail multiple times, we need to increase energy production in order to help supercharge the economy and ease inflation caused by Biden’s disastrous policies.”
The days-long tour in Texas was designed for Trump to collect oil and gas money as he portrays himself as the inevitable GOP nominee. His team has continued to cite strong poll numbers in wooing potential donors, to underscore his inevitability.
“We’ve seen a lot of movement in the past month or two,” one person in Trump’s orbit said, referring to campaign contributors who had previously been eyeing other candidates.
Not all donors are making the bet. Some of the country’s most prominent donors, including Ken Griffin and Paul Singer, are holding out hope for Haley, DeSantis or another Republican to beat Trump. In the oil industry, several people with knowledge of the matter said, many of the top donors are just staying on the sidelines.
Joseph W. Craft III, the president and chief executive of coal producer Alliance Resource Partners, and his wife, Kelly Craft, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, have each donated to six of Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Each gave $6,600 — the maximum amount allowed by law for individual donors — to DeSantis, Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the filings show. Each also donated $6,600 to former vice president Mike Pence, who suspended his campaign last month, and $3,300 to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who dropped out of the race in August.
The contributions come after Trump declined to endorse Kelly Craft in last May’s Republican primary for Kentucky governor. Yet Trump’s presidency was a boon for Joseph Craft’s coal business, as the Environmental Protection Agency weakened federal limits on carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants and eased requirements for storing toxic coal ash. Joseph Craft met with Scott Pruitt, Trump’s first EPA chief and a longtime friend, more than half a dozen times, agency records show.
Kelcy Warren, the billionaire co-founder of the pipeline company Energy Transfer, has also donated tens of thousands to DeSantis, according to FEC filings. Warren previously held a fundraising bash in 2020 that raised $10 million for the reelection of Trump, who approved Energy Transfer’s controversial Dakota Access pipeline a month after taking office.
One prominent oil executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said many donors still want a candidate other than Trump and are assessing other options, such as DeSantis and Haley. “They hang out at Houston Country Club,” this person said. “Their wives don’t like Trump. They still want someone else.”
This person had given a large check to Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. “Maybe that was a mistake,” he said with a laugh.
The campaign calculus of the energy industry reflects what many big donors are thinking, according to Republican operatives. Many still wish Trump was not likely to be the nominee but are begrudgingly cutting Trump a check — or are unwilling to give to another candidate because they think they are wasting their money.
Trump advisers say they’ve enjoyed a fundraising windfall in recent weeks, with a 1,200-person event at Mar-a-Lago that raised $6 million and two events with 400 or more donors in Texas. Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta held another large event in Dallas, attendees said, with about 400 guests.
“Harold is an early tell,” the oil executive said. “He wants to be close to power. That’s his M.O. He’s not going to let the opportunity go away if he sees Trump is the guy.”
Hamm, who previously supported Trump’s campaigns in 2016 and 2020, has attracted some other donors back to the fold.
A range of affluent Texas oil business people attended recent Trump fundraising events, according to his advisers, such as George Bishop, Cody Campbell, John Sellers, Marcia French, Mark Rollins, Elpidio Balderas and Al Gonsoulin.
On Wednesday, hotel magnate Robert Bigelow, the largest individual donor to a super PAC supporting DeSantis, said he was considering switching his allegiance to Trump. Another prominent GOP donor, Bernie Marcus, said he was endorsing Trump on Thursday after other GOP candidates tried to woo him. Earlier this year, the former Home Depot CEO said publicly that he was undecided.
“Who would you want as a commander? I’d want somebody that would be a hell of an ass-kicker if he needed to be,” Bigelow said in an interview with the Financial Times. “On the face of it, you lean toward Trump.”