Trump’s energy industry donors defect to his primary rivals

By Robin Bravender | 07/18/2023 01:38 PM EDT

Deep-pocketed energy industry titans who supported Donald Trump in the past are donating to his competitors in the 2024 presidential primary.

Nikki Haley, Ron, DeSantis, Donald Trump,  Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie

GOP energy donors are shelling out for former President Donald Trump's competition in the 2024 presidential primary. POLITICO illustration/Photos by AP, Francis Chung/POLITICO, iStock

Energy industry executives who backed former President Donald Trump are now shelling out cash to his competition.

Oil and gas magnate Harold Hamm donated to Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. Pipeline mogul Kelcy Warren and Midland Energy Inc. CEO Syed Javaid Anwar contributed to DeSantis, too. Billionaire energy executive Jeffery Hildebrand is backing North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s campaign, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

Coal executive Joe Craft and his wife, Kelly — who served as ambassador to the United Nations under Trump — have donated to DeSantis, Mike Pence, Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie.


Meanwhile, none of those wealthy energy donors has cut Trump big checks for his 2024 campaign, based on the reports that were due Saturday.

“The simple explanation is that Trump has issues,” said Bill Miller, a longtime Texas lobbyist.

The former president was indicted this year in cases surrounding an alleged hush money payment to a porn star and the handling of classified documents. Trump is also the subject of another investigation in Georgia centered on allegations that he sought to interfere with the 2020 election outcome.

“It’s kind of like a car that’s not quite in good shape and it’s got to go on a road trip. There are gonna be problems,” Miller said. “As a consequence, donors are spreading their wealth.”

The GOP presidential primary is just getting underway, and deep-pocketed donors often spread their contributions around to multiple candidates early in the race. But early contributions from some of Trump’s former allies in the energy industry suggest that they’re looking to back the former president’s Republican competition heading into the 2024 election.

Trump remains the dominant small-dollar fundraiser in the GOP field so far, POLITICO reported, but many of his former donors have turned to other candidates so far this cycle. A Wall Street Journal analysis found that nearly 5,000 people who donated to Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign had instead contributed to his Republican competitors this this time around.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Hamm, who served as a Trump campaign adviser in 2016 and was widely seen as a potential Energy secretary in his Cabinet, contributed to Haley — the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the U.N. — back in March, donating the maximum combined $6,600 to her campaign for the primary and general elections. Hamm, executive chair of the Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources Inc., also contributed in March to other fundraising committees affiliated with Haley, the records show.

Hamm is also backing DeSantis, the disclosures show. Hamm contributed a total of $6,600 to the Florida governor’s campaign in June.

Hamm, a billionaire and prolific GOP donor, previously plowed $70,000 into a pro-Trump joint fundraising committee in the 2020 campaign cycle. But the man once known as “Trump’s energy whisperer” later appeared to have soured on his former ally. Hamm told the Financial Times in 2022 that the former president was disloyal to “everyone around him that worked hard.”

Hamm did not respond to a request for comment.

DeSantis’ campaign also received contributions from Warren, the billionaire co-founder of the pipeline company Energy Transfer LP, and Anwar, the records show.

Warren, a former high-profile Trump backer, hosted a fundraiser at his home in Dallas for the then-president in 2020. Warren declined to comment for this story.

Anwar — a prominent Trump donor during the 2020 campaign — told E&E News in 2018 that the then-president had done a “decent job” but added, “I just don’t like his tweeting.”

Both Warren and Anwar previously donated to a fundraising committee that supported DeSantis’ gubernatorial reelection bid in Florida.

Anwar also did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The latest filings don’t cover some donations to fundraising committees affiliated with candidates that aren’t required to file until the end of the month. Campaigns also aren’t required to report the names of small-dollar donors who contribute less than $200.

Joe Craft and Kelly Craft also contributed to DeSantis’ presidential campaign in this recent quarter. The couple donated to the campaigns of Ramaswamy, Christie and Pence.

Joe Craft is president and CEO of Alliance Resource Partners, while Kelly Craft was ambassador to the United Nations and Canada under Trump. The couple backed Trump early in his presidential campaign, including hosting a July 2016 fundraiser in Kentucky for the then-candidate.

More recently, DeSantis endorsed Kelly Craft late in this year’s Kentucky gubernatorial primary, recording a robocall on her behalf. She lost to the Trump-backed candidate, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

Hildebrand, the billionaire founder of the Texas-based oil and gas company Hilcorp, donated $3,300 in June to North Dakota’s Burgum. Hildebrand and his wife, Melinda, were among Trump’s big oil and gas industry donors in 2020.

John Catsimatidis, a billionaire businessman who owns the oil refinery United Refining Co., is among the energy donors who have ponied up for Trump’s campaign this cycle. He and his wife, Margo, each donated $3,300 to Trump’s campaign in May.

Miller, the Texas lobbyist, said the donations to Trump’s rivals shouldn’t be viewed as a referendum on the former president’s energy policies.

“It’s every bit about the person, not the policy,” he said.