Resolute Square

Trump Peddles Environmental Rollbacks

Amee Vanderpool writes, “At a recent Mar-a-Lago fundraiser, the presumptive Republican Nominee demanded a billion dollars in campaign donations in exchange for a promise to dismantle Biden's environmental protection policies.”
Published:May 17, 2024

Published with the generous permission of Amee Vanderpool. For more of Amee's work, visit and support her Shero newsletter.

By Amee Vanderpool

On April 11, 2024, former President Donald Trump held a 20-person “Energy Round Table” fundraising dinner with top oil and gas executives at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. On the menu that night was Trump’s signature quid pro quo dish that involved explicit presidential promises in exchange for a lot of cash. The deal involved Donald Trump committing to eradicate recently established environmental regulation protections created by the Biden administration in exchange for a $1 billion combined campaign donation from big oil executives to his MAGA campaign.

That night, Trump allegedly solicited payments in exchange for an unequivocal promise to deliver specific official actions in the future that would directly benefit big oil companies, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Continental Resources, Chesapeake Energy, Occidental Petroleum, Venture Global LNG, Cheniere Energy, EQT Corporation and the American Petroleum Institute. In exchange for a hefty “donation,” Trump vowed to end the freeze on permits for new liquefied natural gas exports, start auctioning off more leases for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and rescind rules that reduce emissions from cars. 

As part of his sales pitch to industry executives, Trump made the following statement: “You all are wealthy enough [and] you should raise $1 billion to return me to the White House.” Trump also pointed out that giving him “$1 billion would be a deal” due to his ability to help them circumvent many regulations, and based on all of the taxes he would help them avoid.

A recent analysis by Friends of the Earth Action proves that Trump’s brag about saving big oil so much money is not wrong. The key to saving money in the fossil fuel industry is through assorted tax breaks which would potentially save oil and gas companies upwards of $110 billion. If Joe Biden is re-elected in November, those tax breaks will not be available based on a recent White House budget proposal that targets $35 billion in domestic oil and gas subsidies and $75 billion in overseas fossil fuel income.

Congressional Democrats have also launched an investigation into the “ethical, campaign finance and legal issues” raised by Senator Jaime Raskin (D-MD), who calls this an “offer of a blatant quid pro quo.” Raskin continues to explain his accusations, saying, “Mr. Trump’s…preparatory actions suggest that certain oil and gas companies, which have a track record of using deceitful tactics to undermine effective climate policy, may have already accepted or facilitated Mr. Trump’s explicit corrupt bargain.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) listens during the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on July 27, 2021 at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/via Getty Images)

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a legal group that has previously sued the Trump administration for Emoluments Clause violations, is also currently investigating the fundraising dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Virginia Canter, Crew’s chief ethics counsel, said the group’s lawyers were investigating what she called a matter of considerable concern, saying, “We’re taking a very serious look at whether Trump’s fundraising pitch to the oil executives for $1 billion would merit some further action.”
This kind of bargain between the Republican Nominee for President and big oil executives would mean that a former president, who has the very real potential to secure another term in the White House, is actively peddling the opportunity for fossil fuel companies to create US policy, but walking a fine line in how he presents it to escape legal culpability. If Trump is successful, he would be able to demolish critical climate policy that has barely had time to work.

This would not be the first time Donald Trump has endeavored to undermine US interests in exchange for payoffs. In January 2024, House Oversight Committee Democrats released a shocking report detailing Trump’s $7.8 million windfall from foreign leaders in exchange for a sequence of foreign policy favors. This kind of action is considered to be a violation of the United States Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause.

During Trump’s time in the Oval Office, a number of private parties, state attorneys general, and Members of Congress sued the president based on alleged violations of both the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. Three major federal Emoluments Clause lawsuits against Trump proceeded over the course of four years, progressing through the lower federal courts and making their way to the US Supreme Court. (See Citizens for Resp. & Ethics in Washington (CREW) v. Trump, No. 1:17-cv-00458-RA (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 23, 2017); Blumenthal v. Trump, No. 1:17-cv-01154-EGS (D.D.C. June 14, 2017); District of Columbia v. Trump, No. 8:17-cv-01596-PJM (D. Md. June 12, 2017)).

Ultimately, Trump’s legal arguments prevailed through the appellate court process, and thanks to the US Supreme Court, a decision against Trump was vacated as moot because Trump was not re-elected and had already left office. Here are the details of what happened:

“In the three cases, plaintiffs alleged that President Trump’s retention of certain business and financial interests during his Presidency violated the Emoluments Clauses. For example, because President Trump retained an ownership interest in the Trump International Hotel, plaintiffs alleged he received constitutionally forbidden emoluments when foreign or state governments paid for their officials to stay at the hotel.

In a series of rulings, the lower courts addressed three main issues: (1) who has standing to assert Emoluments Clause violations; (2) whether the President and other elected officials are subject to the Foreign Emoluments Clause; and (3) the meaning and scope of the term emolument.

On the standing-to-sue issue, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that individual Members of Congress lacked standing to sue based on alleged injuries to the legislature as a whole (namely, the deprivation of an opportunity to vote on whether to consent to the acceptance of foreign emoluments). As to the standing of private individuals, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that hospitality-industry plaintiffs had standing based on a theory of competitive harm resulting from the allegedly unlawful acceptance of emoluments. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case but instructed the lower courts to wipe away previous lower court opinions that went against Trump because he is no longer in office, and therefore, the decision was moot.

On the second issue, commentators have debated whether federal elected officials hold an Office of Profit or Trust under the United States are thus subject to the Foreign Emoluments Clause. The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which has developed a body of opinions on the Emoluments Clauses, has opined that the President surely holds an office of profit and trust under the Constitution. In litigation, President Trump did not dispute that he was subject to the Foreign Emoluments Clause, and the only lower court to directly reach the issue agreed with the OLC’s view. However, that holding was subsequently vacated by the appellate court.

The final litigated issue was the meaning and scope of the term emolument as used in the Emoluments Clauses—particularly, whether it includes private, arm’s-length market transactions. In the litigation, Trump argued that emoluments included only benefits received by an officeholder in return for official action or through his office or employment. Plaintiffs urged that emoluments be defined more broadly to apply to any profit, gain, or advantage received by the President from a foreign or domestic government. The two district courts that reached the issue adopted the plaintiffs’ broader definition of emolument, but ultimately, the appellate courts subsequently vacated those decisions in favor of Trump.”

Under the bribery statute, 18 USC §201(b), public officials are able to solicit donations within the constraints of campaign finance laws, and this includes specifying their policy objectives to companies that might benefit from said plans. Candidates are not legally allowed to ask for money directly in return for carrying out beneficial acts once in office, which would constitute a “quid pro quo.” For the bribery statute to be invoked, there would need to be evidence that Trump promised to dismantle regulations in exchange for donations rather than telling the group they should help send him back to the White House so he can do these things.

Based on his success in enriching himself with foreign officials during his first administration, Donald Trump is no doubt continuing his pattern of selling favors in exchange for money but knows how to make sure he uses the right wording to do it. Previous rulings involving the Emoluments Clause and whether Trump could be held to account show us that as long as Trump can outrun the legal process by leaving office before the case hits the Supreme Court, he will be legally protected. His latest offer at Mar-a-Lago only proves that Trump shows no signs of slowing on the pay-for-play front. One can only imagine what Trump would sell next if he becomes president again in 2024.


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