Oil, gas and coal interests filling Donald Trump’s ‘swamp’ with cash

Fossil fuel giants spent millions on lobbying, inauguration during early 2017

By

 Updated:

President Donald Trump’s “swamp” is particularly rich in fossil fuels.

Oil, gas and coal interests together poured millions of dollars into Trump’s inaugural fund and re-energized their federal government lobbying efforts during the year’s first three months, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal disclosures.

It’s a two-pronged strategy that’s apparently paying dividends: The new administration has spent its early days ticking items off the industry wish list.

In all, oil, gas and coal companies and executives contributed more than $1 out of every $10 raised for Trump’s inauguration, for which he raised nearly $107 million overall. That’s significantly more than the $1 the sector contributed for every $34 President Barack Obama raised overall for his second inauguration, per an analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry spent $36.1 million on federal lobbying efforts from Jan. 1 through March 31. That’s an 11 percent increase over the same period last year, Center for Responsive Politics data shows.

Corporations buying influence muscle during the early days of a new presidential administration is hardly a new tactic. For example, ExxonMobil — No. 2 on the Fortune 500 list — increased its lobbying expenditures during the months immediately following Obama’s 2009 and 2013 inaugurations, federal records show.

But increased oil and gas industry lobbying is a sign the industry executives expect the Trump administration to act on matters that could affect their companies’ fortunes.

So far, that’s exactly what’s happened.

During his first 100 days in office, Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have moved to ease or remove restrictions on coal, oil and gas companies. The efforts, some of which are preliminary or may face legal fights, include:

  • Rescinding the Stream Protection Rule that banned dumping toxic heavy metals into waterways during the coal mining process
     
  • Expediting the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline, two projects that had failed to win approval from the Obama administration

During his campaign, Trump promised to “drain the swamp” — limiting the power of special interests and the lobbyists they employ.

But Trump chose not to ban or cap contributions to his inaugural committee from corporations, setting laxer limits on donations than his presidential predecessors, including Obama and George W. Bush.

Oil, gas and coal companies writing big checks to Trump’s inauguration included Chevron ($525,000), Citgo ($500,000), ExxonMobil ($500,000), BP Corporation of North America ($500,000) and coal mining company Murray Energy ($300,000). NextEra Energy, which operates nuclear, oil, gas, wind and solar power plants, gave ($250,000).

Industry executives gave, too.

They include coal executives Christopher Cline, founder of coal company Foresight Reserves LLC, and J Clifford Forrest, president of Rosebud Mining Company — each gave $1 million.

Also contributing $1 million each: Hushang Ansary, a longtime oil executive and businessman, and his wife, Shahla Ansary.

Inaugural committee donors who gave at least $1 million were invited to a long list of exclusive events over the inauguration weekend, including dinners with the vice president and president and a luncheon with “select Cabinet appointees” and “select House and Senate leadership” — the same people making policy decisions that govern their businesses.

Trump is “blurring the lines between commercial oil interests and the state,” said Cassady Craighill, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace USA, an environmental organization.

Craighill said Trump’s decision to appoint former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state is an example of big oil companies’ influence over the federal government.

Spokespeople for both Chevron and ExxonMobil described their inauguration contributions as a good will effort to work with the new presidential administration and as something they do routinely.

Chevron, for example, donated $1 million to Obama’s second inauguration — more than the company gave to Trump.

And ExxonMobil spokesman Alan Jeffers said the $3.44 million the company spent on lobbying efforts during the first three months of 2017 is “reflective of the large number of issues impacting ExxonMobil’s business.”

ExxonMobil isn’t alone in its broad lobbying efforts. Oil and gas interests lobbied on topics ranging from energy to transportation and tax reform.

For example, BP contributed $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration, and it also spent $1.7 million during the first three months of the year lobbying in part on “issues related to arctic oil and gas development.”

Citgo, a subsidiary of state-owned Venezuelan oil company PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela), gave $500,000 to the Trump inauguration and spent an additional $410,000 on lobbying. Citgo lobbied both Congress and several federal government agencies on “sanctions related issues” and the “potential impact of U.S. energy and foreign policy restrictions on CITGO Petroleum Corporation's operations,” according to a disclosure filed with the U.S. Senate.

Kelcy Warren, CEO of the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, personally donated $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration. His company, Energy Transfer Partners, also spent $270,000 lobbying on “pipeline related issues.”

ExxonMobil reported lobbying on about 40 different bills and issues during the year’s first quarter.

The second quarter is looking just as busy.

Congress is moving toward a debate on tax reform that could put some of the industry’s most cherished tax breaks in jeopardy.

Trump has sent mixed signals on whether he’ll proceed with a campaign promise to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, or attempt to renegotiate it.

But ExxonMobil and Chevron are leaving nothing to chance.

Both listed NAFTA as a lobbying issue in first-quarter disclosure filings.

Jie Jenny Zou contributed to this report

This story was co-published by Grist.

Care about freedom of the press? Support independent investigative journalism.

Donate now
Donate now