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yard sale

Donald Trump Is Short on Cash—and Selling Laws to Anyone Who Will Pay

Donald Trump is telling oil and gas executives they can rewrite entire laws if they help him return to the White House.

Donald Trump close-up
Jeenah Moon-Pool/Getty Images

It has never been a better time to be a corporate lobbyist. The Republican Party, having run out of ideas, no longer even pretends to represent anything other than capital. The party’s standard-bearer, Donald Trump, has no agenda to speak of for a second term, and I doubt the GOP, which wrote no platform in 2020, will write one for 2024. Should Trump get elected, however, he will need to have a program. So he’s holding a sort of yard sale, starting with the oil and gas industry.

At a Mar-a-Lago dinner last month, the author of The Art of the Deal made a proposition to a gathering of top energy executives that included representatives from Chevron, Exxon, Occidental Petroleum, Cheniere Energy, and Venture Global. Give me $1 billion, Trump reportedly said, and you will receive relief from whatever environmental rules and policies that displease you. The value of that relief, he told them, far exceeds $1 billion. Trump actually used the word “deal,” according to The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey and Maxine Joselow. That raises the question of whether bribery should be added to the list of criminal offenses for which Trump has been indicted already. Indeed, it seems possible Trump’s shakedown, because it was so blunt, will backfire, frightening oil executives away from any future contributions lest they invite prosecution. It happened with the Teapot Dome scandal in 1921 and it could happen again. These energy bigwigs are well-advised to consult their general counsels before they open their checkbooks

Trump might argue in his defense that there is no quid pro quo because doing everything the oil and gas industry wants was the plan all along. He mostly followed that principle during his first term, so why not eliminate all friction in the second? But if that’s the case, there’s even less reason for industry executives to write Trump campaign checks. Why buy the cow when you can milk it through the fence? The oil and gas industries have already given Trump about $500,000, according to Open Secrets. Better to reserve any additional funds for their number one priority, which seems to be re-electing Representative August Pfluger, the Republican congressman from Texas’s Permian Basin.

Ben Lefebvre reports in Politico that the energy sector is “drawing up ready-to-sign executive orders” for Trump to sign regarding natural gas exports, drilling costs, and offshore oil leases. According to energy executives:     

The effort stems from the industry’s skepticism that the Trump campaign will be able to focus on energy issues as Election Day draws closer — and worries that the former president is too distracted to prepare a quick reversal of the Biden administration’s green policies. Oil executives also worry that a second Trump administration won’t attract staff skillful enough to roll back President Joe Biden’s regulations or craft new ones favoring the industry…

That’s kind of insulting, no? However much it wants Trump to win a second term, the oil and gas industry does not expect a Trump administration to be competent, or to have much of a mind of its own. The phrase “useful idiot” springs to mind. The lobbyists Lefebvre interviewed did little to hide their contempt. “Supportive industries are going to have to prop up a second Trump administration with expertise,” said one who spoke not for attribution. “We’re going to have to write exactly what we want, actually spoon-feeding the administration.”

There’s every reason to think candidate Trump is subcontracting not just oil and tax policy, but his entire second-term agenda (minus a handful of pet projects) in return for campaign contributions, more enthusiastic support, or possibly nothing at all. It may be that the Trump campaign simply appreciates lobbyists as free labor. Why create a policy shop to establish second-term priorities when industry hacks want to do that work for you? Policy shops require salaries, which costs money, and Trump needs to reserve campaign funds to pay legal fees in his four criminal prosecutions.

Spencer Chretien, a former aide in the Trump White House, runs Project 2025, the Heritage Foundation’s program to micromanage a second Trump presidency down to mowing the White House lawn and taking out the garbage. (I exaggerate, but only slightly.) Project 2025 has drafted various executive orders allowing a future President Trump to roll back access to abortion. “We’re trying to do as much, now, of the future president’s work that we can,” Chretien told Politico’s Alice Miranda Ollstein way back in January. Why can’t the future president write his own executive orders, or get his White House staff to write them? Because they won’t be competent enough to do so. Having worked on the inside, Chretien ought to know.

Some will say I’m being naïve. Lobbyists and think-tankers tend to swagger, especially when they talk to Politico, and Democrats and Republicans alike depend on outside groups to advise them on policy. It’s not unheard of, for instance, for environmental or labor groups to help draft regulations. That’s all true. But it’s pretty rare for an outside group to go full Docusign like we’re seeing here. And anyway, when public interest groups help prepare policy documents they’re acting in, well, the public interest. When representatives of corporations (and their Heritage Foundation lackeys) tell a possible future president to just sign on the dotted line, they don’t pretend to be acting on behalf of anything other than private profit.

Especially galling is that industry lobbyists are treating a second Trump term as their personal property even as Trump and the GOP continue to draw strong support from the working class. Non-college voters (the standard definition of working-class voters) should ask themselves why Trump isn’t inviting them to write any executive orders, or merely to suggest any ways he can make their lives better. The answer is he doesn’t care. He can win them over by insulting Democrats, the press, the professional class, and other enemies at his campaign rallies—and through a constant flow of cultural and now legal transgression on social media. They love that he respects nothing. They sell themselves cheap.