Donald Trump sold himself as an outsider – a self-funding billionaire candidate with no strings attached who would “drain the swamp” in Washington.
And there is little doubt that after running a comparatively bare-bones campaign, after spitting in the eye of the Republican establishment, and after winning the election through a mix of chutzpah and apparently boundless energy, Trump enters office with fewer IOUs in his pocket than most of his immediate predecessors.
But his domestic appointments so far are beginning to seem like a private “Thank-You Tour” for the well-heeled supporters he did have.
The most recent nod goes to an early backer and benefactor, Oklahoma-based fracking billionaire Harold Hamm, the CEO of Continental Resources. Hamm, who has been mentioned by Trump as a possible Energy Secretary, told Fox News on Thursday that he is happy as head of Continental, but that does not mean he will be without influence. On Wednesday, Trump named Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been allied with and supported by Hamm, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pruitt, a climate change skeptic, is a ferocious foe of the EPA. In a statement released by the Trump transition team, he said: "The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses."
On CNN, Hamm called Pruitt a “person of great integrity,” and there is reason to think he believes that: He served as chairman of 2013 Pruitt’s re-election campaign.
Also getting a big, fat thank you is Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment and two-time candidate for senator from Connecticut, who Trump has nominated to lead the Small Business Administration. OpenSecrets.org lists WWE as the second-biggest donor to the Trump campaign, with a steroidal $4 million gift.
Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker, hedge fund investor and Hollywood financier, was a natural choice: He served as chairman of Trump’s campaign finance committee. But his nomination no doubt pleases other big names in the financial community who backed Trump. Among them are billionaire investor John Paulson, a Trump economic adviser and co-investor with Mnuchin in the purchase of failed subprime lender IndyMac, which became the successful OneWest (with the help of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.); hedge fund whiz Robert Mercer, the co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies; and activist investor Carl Icahn.
Icahn, whose wife is on the inauguration planning team, is also probably tickled by the nomination of Pruitt since he has called for rolling back EPA rules for refiners, such as CVS Refining, which he controls.
The appointment of Steve Bannon as Trump’s chief White House strategist is perhaps the biggest payback – as befits the president-elect’s biggest backer, Mercer.
According to OpenSecrets.org, Mercer’s Renaissance Technologies contributed more than $15 million to the Trump campaign, and Mercer was the moneybags behind Bannon when he was running Breitbart News and the Global Accountability Institute, a right-wing research operation.
According to its website, one of GAI’s missions is “to investigate and expose crony capitalism.”