Donald Trump’s oil baron lovefest wins over a Nikki Haley supporter and his cash

Donald Trump campaigns in Conway, South Carolina  (Getty Images)
Donald Trump campaigns in Conway, South Carolina (Getty Images)

How does one draw a line between Donald Trump and higher gas prices?

The answer: through a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation — and a former Nikki Haley donor.

Donald Trump’s third bid for the White House has been punctuated with a sense of desperation which never seemed to appear in his two previous runs for president. Beset by four criminal prosecutions and a number of civil trials, the former president is running for a second term under the shadow of serious legal consequences for his bid to overturn the 2020 election, his alleged hoarding of classified documents, and his hush money scheme to hide an affair with a porn star.

With those various judicial proceedings comes a staggering financial cost, already surpassing $100 million.

That drain on his finances — which he has offset with donations to his Save America PAC — is one motivating factor for pursuing the presidency. The second is the unique nature of the office, which, thanks to Justice Department guidelines on prosecuting a sitting president, would provide Trump with another layer of security as he fights off his prosecutions.

Even with Joe Biden trailing in the polls and now suffering a self-dealt body blow after last Thursday’s debate, Trump and his allies recognize a need to step up their fundraising game as the general election approaches. The Republican National Committee (RNC), now led by Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, is seeking to win back the Senate while building on a tenuous lead in the House of Representatives, in addition to winning back the White House.

The result of this pandering for votes and money: increasingly brazen efforts to win both big-money backers and non-Republican voters. The Independent has reported previously on how Trump’s campaign has openly traded policy position stances for money, in some cases putting the former president in direct opposition to his old views.

Donald Trump campaigns in Conway, South Carolina (Getty Images)
Donald Trump campaigns in Conway, South Carolina (Getty Images)

Some of Trump’s latest approval-seeking has gone less than well. He was nearly booed off stage at the Libertarian Party’s national convention in May, despite reaching out to his audience with an olive branch: an offer to commute the sentence of Ross Ulbricht, founder of the “Silk Road” drug marketplace.

But in one other case it seems to have netted Republicans a financial lifeline. The RNC in May received a gift of nearly a half million dollars from a perhaps unlikely source: Bryan Sheffield. An entrepreneur in the energy sector, Sheffield’s FEC reports indicate he donated $320,000 over the course of the 2024 primary to SFA Fund, a PAC supporting Nikki Haley.

Haley, who exited the GOP primary after winning just one state after Super Tuesday, proclaimed that Trump would have to work to win back her voters before the election. Then, seemingly without any effort by Trump to do so, she announced her endorsement of the former president.

Haley’s endorsement occurred on May 22nd. Sheffield’s gift to the RNC was postmarked two days prior.

But there’s another reason why 46-year-old Sheffield could have a reason to back Donald Trump this year: the FTC. The Texas-based businessman is an oil man with blood in the industry dating back generations. The bulk of his self-earned wealth comes from a company he founded in 2008 called Parsley Energy, named after Sheffield’s grandfather (another oil man, responsible for drilling the wells his grandson would come to operate). By self-admission, Bryan Sheffield had no experience in the business, but he was still running things twelve years later, when the company was bought in 2020 by a company controlled by his father, Scott Sheffield.

This circle of familial wealth has been a source of support for Republicans in Texas for years. Other recipients of the Sheffield family’s political support have included local politicians Dade Phelan and George P. Bush — two more Republicans, like Haley, reviled in Trumpworld — making their heel-turn in favor of the RNC all the more relevant. On reports dated May 20, Bryan Sheffield donated a total of $419,600 to the RNC. It might’ve been small compared to the staggering $141 million sum the party and various Trump campaign entities raised that month, but it was still an amount that made the Sheffield family one of the larger fishes in the pond.

Nikki Haley endorsed Donald Trump this spring after previously saying that the ex-president would have to earn the votes of her supporters (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Nikki Haley endorsed Donald Trump this spring after previously saying that the ex-president would have to earn the votes of her supporters (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

And there’s another reason the Sheffields had reason to warm to Trump. At a fundraiser attended by oil industry bigwigs on May 22, the same day as Haley’s endorsement, Trump explicitly promised to push the FTC to fast-track merger approvals for energy companies. The Sheffields are no stranger to this issue: Scott Sheffield was denied a seat on ExxonMobil’s board in an FTC consent order after the agency accused him of “attempt[ing] to collude with the representatives of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)”, a major energy cartel, to keep oil and gasoline prices high.

According to the agency, Scott Sheffield engaged in “collusive activity that would potentially raise crude oil prices, leading American consumers and businesses to pay higher prices for gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil and jet fuel.”

The Independent reached out to Bryan and Scott Sheffield for comment on this reporting, including whether Trump or his team have discussed plans for the FTC with them personally. Scott, earlier this year, vigorously denied any collusion with OPEC in a statement: “The FTC is wrong to imply that I ever engaged in, promoted or even suggested any form of anti-competitive behavior.”

“[P]ublicly and unjustifiably vilifying me will have a chilling effect on the ability of business leaders in any sector of our economy to address shareholder demands and to exercise their constitutionally protected right to advocate for their industries,” he added.

Pioneer Natural Resources, the company for which Scott Sheffield serves as CEO and previously as chairman, also issued its own lengthy statement rebuking the FTC over its decision to deny Sheffield a board seat in the merger.

“Mr. Sheffield and Pioneer believe that the FTC’s Complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the US and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” said the company. “During Mr. Sheffield’s career, it was neither the intent nor an effect of Mr. Sheffield’s communications to circumvent the laws and principles protecting market competition.”

Trump’s campaign has made a significant amount of outreach to fossil fuel industry leaders, a sign that has alarmed environmentalists. At a separate meeting with oil CEOs in April, this time at Mar-a-Lago, Trump offered a challenge: Raise $1 billion for his re-election campaign, and he will reverse dozens of Biden’s environmental directives on day one of his presidency.

Ethics experts told The Independent that the request was indicative of how big money interests like the fossil fuel lobby have little fear of pushback from federal election law or its enforcers.

“It is deeply concerning and problematic to see a presidential candidate solicit millions of dollars from wealthy donors in exchange for promised policies or actions that cater to the donors’ wishes,” said Saurav Ghosh of the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, see a potential second Trump term as an accelerated version of his first — a no-holds-barred scramble in favor of fossil fuels with an administration ready to quickly walk back any progress made to halt climate change under Joe Biden’s presidency.

“Donald Trump wants to be a dictator on day one so that he can shield his Big Oil donors from a range of consequences. Right now, there are allegations that they intentionally inflated gas prices for American consumers by colluding with OPEC—and open investigations into those charges,” said Alex Glass, a spokesman for Climate Power.

“Trump isn’t just pledging to let an ultra-wealthy oil donor escape scrutiny for allegedly profiting at the expense of Americans by working with a Saudi-led cartel; he’s willing to let OPEC and the Saudis profit from the pain of Americans while he asks for $1 billion in campaign donations from fossil fuels. That’s just part of what makes him so dangerous.”