U.S. oil and gas production is booming. So are industry donations to GOP allies.

August Pfluger, an Air Force veteran and member of the U.S. House representing a small district in West Texas, isn’t exactly a household name on the national political scene, with little press coverage in the last two months outside a recent Fox News appearance.

But he is the country’s top recipient of campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry — out of all federal candidates, including President Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — receiving $573,721 during the current 2024 election cycle, according to campaign finance data compiled by Open Secrets.

That even exceeds the $500,000 the American Petroleum Institute spent in Pennsylvania just in the first quarter of 2024 lobbying state agencies and lawmakers. API spent more in Pennsylvania, the nation’s second-biggest natural gas producing state, in 2022 than any other state.

Pfluger is running for reelection, though it’s not a competitive race in the strongly Republican district, which includes part of the Permian basin, the largest oil-producing region in the country.

But Pfluger has been a loyal ally of the industry, leading the congressional opposition to the Biden administration’s pause on liquefied natural gas exports. When Pfluger entered Congress in 2021, his first piece of legislation proposed prohibiting the Biden administration from demanding a moratorium on issuing new oil and gas permits for drilling on federal lands. He declared on the floor of the House: “My primary concern in Congress is to protect our oil and gas industry from the radical Democrats who will soon control the House, Senate, and White House.” Pfluger’s office did not return calls for comment.

His concern reflects that of the industry, which heavily favors Republicans when it comes to campaign donations. Yet the sector is booming under the Biden administration — oil production in the United States is projected to reach record levels in 2024, with job growth in the sector outpacing the overall job market — but that performance is due less to government policy and more to global factors such as the Ukraine war and an increase in prices resulting from post-pandemic demand.

Biden has angered the industry with his ambitious climate agenda and many Democrats have pushed for renewable energy to replace fossil fuels. In contrast, Trump has supported lifting many regulations on oil, gas and coal companies, and Republicans have generally supported policies that help the industry.

That split is starkly reflected in the industry’s campaign contributions — oil and gas companies are contributing more than seven times as much money to Republican candidates and conservative groups as to Democrats and liberal groups, according to Open Secrets. In the 2024 election cycle, the sector has contributed more than $25 million to the GOP and conservative groups compared to $3.6 million to Democrats as of April 16. At that pace, the split in donations will be even wider than it was during the competitive 2020 elections. At some oil giants, the divide is even more stark. Koch Industries, the Kansas-based conglomerate, has contributed $1.3 million to Republicans and only $710 to Democrats so far in 2024. Of the top 20 contributors from the sector, only Wyoming-based oil producer Samson Energy has given more to Democrats than to Republicans.

Along with Pfluger, the other top five recipients of oil and gas money this cycle are all Republicans — Trump ($501,014), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ($496,927), former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley ($431,817), and Cruz ($445,232).

In contrast, the renewable energy sector (which includes solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biofuels) has contributed almost twice as much to Democrats ($3.92 million) as to Republicans ($2.15 million) in this cycle.

“Despite the fact that oil is doing incredibly well under President Biden, the industry and its allies have continued to press the misleading talking point that Biden is engaged in war on oil and gas, reality is that he’s been trying to put forward some modest rules on the industry,” said Alan Zibel, an analyst at Public Citizen. “The industry prefers Republicans because they’ll do what they want them to do.”

In some cases, lawmakers take it a step further than even the industry, “pushing industry giveaways” into the Inflation Reduction Act, Zibel said. In 2023 Pfluger introduced legislation that would have repealed a fee intended to discourage methane emissions, a fee that was actually backed by several oil and gas companies.

Among the industry’s biggest political contributors is the high-powered American Petroleum Institute (API), which has contributed about $3.7 million so far this cycle, the vast majority to conservative groups and Republican candidates. The group is also spending eight figures on a national TV and digital ad campaign, dubbed the Lights on Energy campaign, which seeks to push for more domestic oil and gas production and “dismantle” policy threats, including portions of the Biden administration’s climate agenda.

In response to questions about why it favors GOP candidates, American Petroleum Institute spokesperson Scott J. Lauermann replied:

“API supports leaders from both parties who align with our policy priorities and recognize the importance of the U.S. natural gas and oil in supporting millions of American jobs, meeting demand for affordable and reliable energy, and reducing emissions through cleaner fuels.”

The group also exerts its influence through lobbying expenditures, especially in Pennsylvania, a key focus for groups such as API because its Democratic governor, Josh Shapiro, is under pressure from environmental groups to push the state’s economy away from fossil fuels.

In Pennsylvania, industry giving has been more bipartisan, with lawmakers from both parties attracting campaign contributions from oil and gas producers. The only campaign contributions made this cycle so far by First Energy, an electric utility that recently abandoned its 2030 target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions because it can’t replace two coal plants, went to Joanna McClinton, the Democratic speaker of the state House of Representatives. One of the state’s largest gas producers, Range Resources, has so far directed its donations only to Republican candidates — including State Treasurer Stacy L. Garrity and several state representatives who sit on the powerful Environmental and Energy Resources Committee, which oversees the industry.

In one of the state’s most competitive battles, Democratic incumbent Sen. Bob Casey has raised about $50,000 so far from the industry — less than half of what’s been raised ($119,521) by his Republican opponent, David McCormick. Part of McCormick’s appeal has been his strong opposition to the Biden administration’s pause on liquefied natural gas exports (he recently vowed to flood the global market with natural gas) and his criticism of Casey for voting to subsidize electric vehicles and solar panels through the Inflation Reduction Act.

In a sign of just how potent the liquefied natural gas issue is in Pennsylvania, the state’s Democratic senators, Casey and John Fetterman, have both been outspoken in their opposition to the ban, expressing their “concerns about the long-term impacts that this pause will have on the thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry.”

Pennsylvania will see a “flood of money from the industry,” Zibel predicted. “The decisions made by its lawmakers will determine the future profits of oil and gas producers in the state.”

This article was produced by the nonprofit journalism publication Capital & Main. It is copublished here with permission.


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