Democrats’ rejection of fossil fuel money marks shift from previous presidential races

Despite the differences, the sweeping consensus among them stands in contrast to past Democratic candidates’ acceptance of oil and gas contributions.

SOURCEOpen Secrets

The oil and gas industry has always favored Republican candidates over their Democratic opponents. Now, Democrats are pledging to break away from fossil fuel money for good.

As climate change takes center stage at political debates, a Democrat-controlled House is pushing for legislation to combat the crisis and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Democratic presidential hopefuls are also rolling out their own plans to address the problem. 

The candidates share similar ground on halting new drilling sites, scaling back fossil fuel tax breaks and rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, but are at odds on fracking, nuclear energy and carbon pricing

Despite the differences, the sweeping consensus among them stands in contrast to past Democratic candidates’ acceptance of oil and gas contributions.

All 20 Democrats running for the 2020 cycle have combined to raise $348,262 from the oil and gas industry for their campaigns. Trump’s two joint fundraising committees, Trump Victory and Trump Make America Great Again Committee, have raked in $5.1 million from the fossil fuel industry since 2017, most of which came from corporate executives. 

 CEO of Energy Transfer Partners Kelcy Warren and his wife gave $721,200 to Trump Victory, records show. The committee also received rounds of $100,000 donations from oil moguls and top executives at other energy companies. Mega oil donor Javaid Anwar, CEO of Texas-based Midland Energy, gave $750,000 to pro-Trump Super PAC America First Action

Most of the 2020 Democratic candidates’ oil industry donors do not assume leadership positions within their company, according to a review of industry contributions from OpenSecrets.

Democrats in previous election cycles were often hesitant to turn down big money from the fossil fuel industry. In his presidential bid against John McCain in 2008, Barack Obama accepted $1.1 million from the industry. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton raised almost $1 million for the 2012 and 2016 presidential races.

Most Democratic candidates in the 2020 cycle, except for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), have sworn off fossil fuel contributions. Eighteen candidates signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, an initiative created in 2017 against large contributions from executives, lobbyists and PACs tied to oil, gas and coal companies. 

The pledge put candidates under tight scrutiny as some came under fire for receiving money or other types of support from those with close ties to the industry.

Former Vice President Joe Biden was mired in controversy last week for attending a private fundraising event thrown for him by Andrew Goldman, co-founder of natural gas company Western LNG. Biden’s campaign clarified that Goldman was not an oil executive but still received criticism that the behavior violated “the spirit of the pledge.”

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who also signed the pledge, was removed from a similar pledge for accepting contributions from the industry while he was running for the Senate in 2018.

For his presidential bid, O’Rourke mustered $132,391 from donors affiliated with oil and gas companies, the most among his Democratic peers. Executives and high-level employees at several global oil and gas corporations maxed out donations and gave his campaign a total of $28,000 in March and April. O’Rourke’s campaign told OpenSecrets that the donations were later returned. 

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who took the pledge in March, amassed $40,988 from the oil industry, most of which comes from low-level employees. His campaign received $5,600 from an executive of Atlas Energy, a company investing heavily in the fossil fuel industry, but later claimed to have returned the money, Sludge reported

Buttigieg also received $3,800 from World Oil Corp co-CEO Steven Roth and his wife, as well as $1,000 from Sylvia Inchausti, wife to Chevron’s executive committee member David Inchausti. The contributions are in the process of being returned or have been returned, his campaign said.

The tone on climate change is also shifting within the fossil fuel industry with energy giants now investing in clean energy development and carbon removal. However, many continue to invest tens of billions in oil production projects.  


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