Calmes: Whatever Big Oil wants, Big Oil gets. As long as it bankrolls Trump

President Donald Trump gestures to Harold Hamm, CEO and majority owner of North Dakota's largest oil company, Continental Resources, as he arrives to speak at the 9th annual Shale Insight Conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Then-President Trump points at Harold Hamm, head of North Dakota's largest oil company, Continental Resources, at an event in 2019. Hamm is co-hosting a fundraiser for Trump in Texas this week. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

What better sign could there be that we’re drowning in political outrage, that we’re inured to it, than this:

A national newspaper scooped this month that Donald Trump gathered about two dozen oil industry executives for a chopped steak dinner at his Mar-a-Lago playground in April and suggested “a deal”: They should raise $1 billion for his presidential campaign because, once reelected, he’d slash their taxes and federal regulations and, as he’d said many times before, let them “drill, baby, drill.”

That story came and went, with little commentary or follow-up in the media.

After all, there was the first criminal trial of a current or former president to cover in Manhattan. Or new polls on the 2024 presidential horse race. Or Justice Clarence Thomas’ bellyaching about criticism of his ethical trespasses. Or congressional Republicans showing up at Trump’s trial to malign the fair proceedings as “a travesty of justice” and “a sham” on Trump’s behalf, their red ties matching his in a fitting metaphor for their tethers to him.

But back to the oily story about oil money.

Read more: Calmes: The Supreme Court's conservatives onstage, unplugged, unrepentant

That was $1 billion, with a B, that Trump sought, according to the Washington Post. And he was soliciting that sum from energy honchos for what he considers due compensation for his plans, if elected, to wipe out President Biden’s climate change agenda. Biden’s historic achievement is still not commensurate with the existential threat that the nation and the world face, but then again, Trump has called global warming “a hoax” invented by the Chinese.

Yet this roundtable of plutocrats and the once and perhaps future president was essentially a one-day story, as journalists say.

Later generations will wonder at our general complacency about global warming, as they’re contending with the costly consequences and natural disasters we’ve only begun to experience. By then, the rising waters already eroding Florida’s coastline perhaps will have swamped Mar-a-Lago. And Trump, who prattles on about draining the swamp but in fact is the master of it, will be history.

Read more: Calmes: Our elections have integrity. These politicians do not

It was reportedly near the end of dinner when Trump told his guests — from companies including Exxon, Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, Continental Resources, EQT Corp., Chesapeake Energy, Cheniere Energy and Venture Global, as well as their lobbying arm, the American Petroleum Institute — that they should help him catch up with Biden in the campaign money chase. To underscore this less-than-subtle shakedown, the head of Trump’s main super PAC was among the attendees.

The disgraced former president told the diners that his second-term policies — “on Day 1” — would make for a good return on their investment: An immediate end to the Biden administration’s freeze on permits for new terminals to export liquefied natural gas. (“You’ll get it on the first day.”) No more restrictions on drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. New leases to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. More corporate tax cuts. And, by inference, revoking California’s authority to enforce clean air regulations that are stronger than the federal government’s.

Read more: Wildfire weather is increasing in California and much of the U.S., report finds

Trump even dangled things the energy moguls don't care that much about. He ranted, as he does routinely in his stream-of-consciousness MAGA rally performances, about scrapping federal incentives for wind power and electric vehicles.

Apparently the industry is about to make a down payment on Trump’s proposed deal. Billionaires Kelcy Warren, head of Energy Transfer Partners, and Harold Hamm, the Continental chair who helped organize the Mar-a-Lago confab, this week are hosting a fundraiser for Trump in Texas.

Yes, both political parties take in huge hauls from special interests, much of it dark money. And Biden is leading Trump in the cash contest, if not the battleground state polls. Yet Trump is uniquely and brazenly transactional, grasping and explicit about quid pro quos. At his dinner, even some of his guests were stunned, according to the Post.

Read more: Summer of 2023 was hottest in 2,000 years, study finds

It’s not as if the oil barons are hurting under Biden. They must know Trump is lying when he talks about “Joe Biden’s war on American energy.” U.S. oil production is setting records and industry profits are gushing. Despite Biden’s moratorium on permits for export terminals, the nation leads the world in natural gas exports and has enough permitted construction underway to double capacity. To the chagrin of environmentalists, Biden has authorized oil projects in Alaska, West Virginia and Texas, among others.

In fairness to the industry, most of its chieftains aren’t pressing to repeal Biden’s landmark clean energy law, as Trump and many congressional Republicans call for. For one thing, the law includes tax credits that benefit their companies. They also recognize, if Trump doesn't, that climate change is real and that the fossil fuel industry must adapt — if only because market forces and government policies, not only in the United States but globally, demand it.

Read more: Anger builds over sweeping change in the way most Californians will pay for electricity

Even without Trump’s obscene ask, the nation’s oil, gas and coal tycoons would likely be opening their wallets for him. They’re almost uniformly Republicans, as industry leaders have been for many decades, allergic to the taxes and regulations that Democrats generally favor. Still, I’d like to think that at least some of those moguls at Trump’s table last month felt the need to retire to their gilt-trimmed rooms at Mar-a-Lago for a long, hot shower.

Remember, the scandal a century ago that became synonymous with Washington corruption and remains a staple of American history textbooks — Teapot Dome — was about oil bribes. But, as has often been said about campaign finance, these days it’s not what’s illegal that’s the problem; it’s what’s legal.

Even so, Trump’s unethical actions should shock. For more than one day.


If it’s in the news right now, the L.A. Times’ Opinion section covers it. Sign up for our weekly opinion newsletter.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.