Updated at 9:58 a.m. EDT.
Billionaire energy executive Harold Hamm's fingerprints — and money — are all over North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer's quest for the Senate.
Funds linked to billionaire Hamm are a significant part of Cramer's treasure chest thus far, even as incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) continues to take in more overall energy dollars.
"He gives me credibility in the industry, for sure," Cramer told E&E News during an interview, noting that the oil executive recently helped arrange a fundraiser for him, featuring Hamm's home state Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Larry Nichols, the founder of Devon Energy Corp.
Influential and willing to leverage his $18 billion wealth, Hamm has backed Cramer's political career for years. To hear the congressman tell it, it was Hamm, founder and CEO of Continental Resources Inc. and a fracking industry pioneer, who drove him into the Senate race.
For months, the congressman said no. He initially rejected pressure from national Republicans, including President Trump, who were desperate for a solid candidate to take on Heitkamp.
It took Hamm's nudging and pledge of support.
"When Harold talked to my wife, Kris, and he said, 'Kris, if Kevin does this, if you guys get into this, I will be his national finance chairman.' That was pretty compelling," Cramer said.
While the third-term House member said Hamm's backing was "very important" to his entering the Senate race, he said the oil executive has no day-to-day role in running his campaign. Cramer said they tend to talk every week or two, usually about fundraising.
Following the money
Campaign finance documents show Hamm dollars flowing to a number of groups backing Cramer, including $50,000 to the Cramer Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee. These outfits share fundraising costs and divide contributions, allowing donors to write one large check.
Of Hamm's donation, $5,000 went to Badlands PAC, a Cramer political action committee, as well as $33,900 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the main GOP campaign arm for the Senate.
The NRSC will back Cramer and attack Heitkamp as the campaign heats up, and Cramer's campaign will likely get tacit credit for bringing in those funds.
In all, the joint fundraising committee has supplied $155,000 to Cramer's campaign, more than $72,000 to the Badlands PAC, and almost $65,000 to the NRSC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Money linked to Hamm has reached Cramer in other ways, too. Campaign finance filings show he gave $5,000 to the PAC associated with Continental Resources, listed on Dec. 18, 2017.
The day Cramer announced his Senate bid, Feb. 15, Continental Resources' PAC gave $5,000 to Cramer's campaign account, according to filing documents.
A few days later, Hamm gave $5,400 — the individual maximum — directly to Cramer's campaign.
Still based in Oklahoma, where he grew up, Hamm has spread money around to other industry-friendly Republicans in the West and Midwest.
Campaign finance filings show $5,400 for Kelly Armstrong, the Republican expected to win Cramer's old seat. Armstrong is the vice president of his family's oil and gas business.
Hamm also gave:
- $2,700 to Vice President Mike Pence's brother, Greg Pence, an Indiana House candidate.
- $2,700 to Montana GOP Senate candidate Russ Fagg, who lost his primary.
- $2,700 for Missouri Attorney General and Senate hopeful Josh Hawley (R).
- $2,700 for Kevin Hern, a candidate in Oklahoma's 1st District.
- $1,000 apiece for the re-election campaigns of Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte (R) and Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole (R).
Reinforcing his ties to the administration, Hamm gave $500,000 to the Trump-linked super political action committee America First Action in January. Hamm and Trump became close in 2012, when the president supplied Hamm with Trump-brand neckties, according to The Washington Post.
Hamm was said to be an influential energy adviser on Trump's presidential campaign and was floated as a possible Energy secretary by Cramer. Both want to expand offshore oil and gas production, while cutting dependence on oil from the Middle East.
Hamm helped ignite a domestic gas boom in the 1990s, introducing horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota's Bakken Shale formation.
Cramer recalled for E&E News that he first met Hamm as a North Dakota public services commissioner in the late 1990s, when the oil executive was frustrated over limited access to a Canadian pipeline running across the state.
"He chewed me out pretty hard about it and wanted to know what I'd do about it," he said.
Cramer told Hamm the state could not afford a lawsuit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But Cramer rightly told Hamm that if his predictions for shale development were accurate, it would only be a matter of time before the markets would force pipeline access to open.
In addition to his Trump ties, Hamm stands as an unbending supporter of fellow Oklahoman Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief. In a recent interview with E&E News, he dismissed the myriad scandals dogging the agency secretary and praised the administration's environmental regulation rollbacks and energy policy (E&E News PM, May 31).
Oil and gas fuel Heitkamp
For all of Hamm's support, Cramer's energy contributions are dwarfed by those of Heitkamp, an outlier on energy and development matters in the Democratic Party.
Oil and gas dollars fuel her re-election bid.
In this campaign cycle, Heitkamp has taken in nearly $740,000 from energy and natural resources companies, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Receipts detail donations from industry heavyweights like BP PLC, ConocoPhillips and Occidental Petroleum Corp.
Heitkamp bucked the party line in voting to confirm Pruitt and on various environmental regulations, including repealing the Interior Department's Stream Protection Rule.
Heitkamp's bank account dwarfs that of her rival, with $5.2 million in the bank on more than $9 million raised. Cramer has raised $2.4 million, with $1.9 million on hand.
Energy and natural resources is his top donor by economic sector, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, but at just $70,050, far below Heitkamp's total take from related companies.
Cramer isn't worried about the difference, noting that Heitkamp has had more than five years to "stockpile" funds for the race. The congressman said he has been strongly supported by the energy industry in his three most recent House races.
Cramer also laughed off concerns about the Koch brothers recently donating to Heitkamp, noting that it was about $75 for a digital ad that ran on Facebook to thank her for backing a banking regulatory bill.
Cramer said the donation "erases the argument" by some on the left that he's been "bought and paid for" by the Kochs. He's quick to add, though, that he still appreciates the backing he's getting from the conservative brothers.
And Cramer boasts monetary backing from powerful companies in North Dakota's Bakken Shale oil fields. Energy Transfer Partners LP, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline, tops Cramer's list as the top individual company donor, with $34,300.
The firm is currently building the $4.2 billion Rover pipeline, which aims to cross West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania into Michigan and Canada.
Other industry donors to Cramer included Select Energy Services Inc., Oasis Petroleum Inc. and Petro-Hunt LLC.