Fracking billionaire and Trump donor Harold Hamm was among an elite group of oil and gas executives who met with the president in early April to press for federal help, including access to big loans for businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. It prompted Trump afterwards to promise to “make funds available to these very important companies”.
Major Trump ally Tommy Fisher, who last year landed a $400m Army Corps of Engineers contract to build 31 miles of Trump’s border wall in Arizona, in April received another $7m from the army – despite an active investigation by a Pentagon watchdog into allegations of favoritism after Trump reportedly pushed for Fisher.
Another big Trump donor, Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and the chair of Trump’s campaign in Minnesota, got red-carpet treatment from Trump at a press briefing in late March. Lindell then praised Trump, hailing him as “chosen by God” as the president touted the firm’s efforts to make thousands of face masks.
The president’s kid-glove treatment of the three Trump backers, who have donated well over $1m to help Trump and other Republican candidates try to win this fall, underscore how even during an unprecedented national crisis Trump’s priorities and campaign machine often tilt towards giving donors and political allies favors, access and publicity.
Numerous bosses of hotels, airlines and other sectors have lobbied Trump and cabinet officials during the pandemic. Watchdog groups say Trump’s close ties with top backers and donors from the oil patch and other sectors deserve close scrutiny, as more than $2.6tn in relief funds are doled out.
“The Trump administration’s dealings with these and other big donors highlight why we need stringent oversight to make sure that the hundreds of billions of dollars sloshing around benefits the American people, and not the president’s donors and political allies,” said Robert Maguire, the research director at the watchdog group Crew.
Hamm’s inclusion at the White House meeting with chiefs from giants ExxonMobil and Chevron was not a surprise: Hamm gave a major speech at the 2016 Republican convention, has been an informal energy adviser to Trump, and has opened his checkbook wide for the president.
Numerous bosses of hotels, airlines and other sectors have lobbied Trump and cabinet officials during the pandemic
Continental Resources, the company Hamm founded and is the major shareholder in, has donated almost $1m to the pro-Trump Super Pac America First Action. Hamm gave $50,000 to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Trump’s oil and gas meeting also drew billionaire Kelcy Warren, the chief of Energy Transfer Partners, which developed the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Warren and his wife donated more than $720,000 to Trump Victory, according to the CRP.
After the meeting, Trump asked his energy and treasury secretaries to explore options for helping oil and gas companies facing leaner times and debt burdens, as demand for oil and gas has plummeted during the pandemic.
The options said to be under review include increasing loan limits in part of the $2.2tn relief act for troubled companies – especially mid- and smaller sized firms that have been hit hardest – and possibly putting tariffs on oil imports, an idea Hamm has touted before.
Further, some mid-sized oil and gas companies are seeking waivers for debt strapped members looking to tap into part of the $2.2tn relief act that the Federal Reserve will launch soon, giving loans to firms with more than 500 employees.
Veteran oil lobbyists caution that Trump’s efforts to help fossil fuel allies, who have benefited mightily from Trump’s deregulatory and tax policies, could spark a political backlash.
“Sentiment against the oil industry is taking a backseat to concerns over the coronavirus, but that could change quickly if the administration offers up a generous economic package to the industry,” warned Don Duncan, a former top lobbyist for ConocoPhillips.
Separately, Trump personally backed the Army Corps of Engineers handing the $400m contract to Fisher’s North Dakota-based company Fisher Sand & Gravel, despite concerns the Corps had about Fisher’s wall proposal, according to the Washington Post.
Trump’s support came after Fisher publicly touted Trump’s wall and his own skills on Fox News, and his home state senator Kevin Cramer, who received $10,000 from Fisher for his campaign in 2018, championed him.
The DoD inspector general’s investigation of whether improper favoritism helped Fisher, didn’t deter the Army giving him $7.6m more in mid-April to construct an 800ft barrier in Arizona.
Meanwhile, MyPillow chief Lindell is reportedly weighing running for governor in Minnesota in 2022 with some encouragement from Trump.