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Trump VP prospect Doug Burgum and GOP megadonor Harold Hamm are allies in business and politics

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  • Doug Burgum, former President Donald Trump’s energy advisor and possible choice to be his running mate, is in a land deal with oil and gas giant Continental Resources.
  • Burgum’s family leases their 200 acres of farm land in North Dakota to energy giant Continental Resources for the company to pump oil and gas.
  • The ties between Burgum and Hamm are under scrutiny by government ethics experts.

If former President Donald Trump taps North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum to be his running mate, the biggest beneficiary of the partnership could be someone else entirely: Harold Hamm, the billionaire founder of shale oil drilling giant Continental Resources, could end up with two powerful allies in a Trump White House.

Burgum’s ties to Hamm and the shale oil drilling giant he founded are complex. Continental is the largest oil and gas leaseholder in North Dakota, where oil and gas is biggest industry by revenue.

The two men also have a friendship outside of business: Burgum recently contributed a rave review blurb to Hamm’s new memoir. And during his 2023 state of the state address, Burgum compared Hamm favorably to President Theodore Roosevelt, describing Hamm as a person “whose grit, resilience, hard work and determination has changed North Dakota and our nation.”

But Burgum has an even more personal link to Continental: Burgum’s family leases their 200 acre farm land in Williams County to the energy giant for pumping oil and gas, according to previously unreported business records and a federal financial disclosure report.

Burgum made up to $50,000 in royalties while he was governor since late 2022 from the deal with Continental Resources, according to his financial disclosure, details of which have not been reported.

Experts told CNBC that Burgum and his family business likely made thousands more from the agreement with Continental Resources since signing a contract with the company in 2009.

This link between Burgum and Continental highlights one of the potential risks for Trump of selecting a running mate who has lived most of his adult life in private.

Burgum has never been subjected to the kind of scrutiny that someone like Sen. Marco Rubio, Fla., has undergone, and from which Rubio has emerged politically intact.

Burgum endorsed Trump in January, a month after he dropped out of the Republican primary for president. Since then, he has become an adviser to Trump on energy policy and joined a shortlist of contenders to be the former president’s running mate.

Hamm, meanwhile, is one of Trump’s biggest supporters in the industry. Burgum, Hamm and other industry advocates were reportedly at a meeting at Trump’s private club in Florida Mar-a-Lago, where the former president called on oil and gas executives to donate $1 billion to his campaign in exchange for his plan to roll back environmental regulations.

Hamm is co-hosting an event for Trump that’s sponsored by the former president’s political action committee, Make American Great Again Inc., on May 22, according to an invitation.

Continental Resources donated $1 million to the super PAC in April, according to Federal Election Commission records. Hamm gave $614,000 to the Trump 47 Committee in March.

Burgum’s oil deal with Continental

The original agreement between the Burgum Farm Partnership and Continental Resources was signed by Bradley Burgum, the governor’s late brother, according to a land lease reviewed by CNBC.

Burgum’s spokesman Mike Nowatzki told CNBC the contract was drawn up years before the governor was sworn into office in 2017.

“North Dakota is a leading energy producer, including the No. 3 oil producing state. Tens of thousands of families and mineral owners have similar arrangements,” Nowatzki said. “As the publicly available disclosures show: The cited agreement began many years before he became governor.”

Nowatzki did not answer specific questions about the deal, Burgum’s role with the family business or his relationship with Hamm.

A spokeswoman for both Continental Resources and Hamm, its executive chairman, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Trump campaign did not return a request for comment.

CNBC obtained Burgum’s personal financial disclosure by a request to the Federal Election Commission. His business records were acquired through the North Dakota secretary of state’s office.

Data from North Dakota’s Minerals Department shows that the locations of the oil and gas wells matches the coordinates of Burgum’s family farm on his business records. The state’s data does not identify Burgum’s address, but the section where the farm and seven of Continental Resources wells are located within a small township named Brooklyn.

All seven wells have been active since 2011, just two years after Burgum’s family signed an agreement with Continental Resources. The wells have produced over 5,000 barrels of oil and thousands of cubic feet in natural gas in March alone, according to the latest data from Drilling Edge. It’s unclear how many of the seven wells are located directly on the Burgum property.

Burgum was elected governor in 2016 and reelected to a second term in 2020. He’s not running for reelection in 2024.

The Burgum Farm Partnership LLP, which oversees the family farm land in Williams County and Cass County, is worth between $500,001 and $1 million, according to the financial disclosure.

Doug Burgum is a managing partner of the Burgum Farm Partnership, and he signed the businesses’ latest annual report in March. Burgum’s financial disclosure says the governor is a non managing member and the company is a “family investment” limited liability partnership.

The company’s annual report that was filed to the secretary of state’s office in April lists Burgum, his late brothers’ children, his sister Barbara and his own three adult children as managing partners of the family business.

The oil and gas land deal says Continental Resources provides the Burgum Farm Partnership 19% of the proceeds from the sales of oil and gas Continental sold after it was pumped from the Burgum property, according to the contract and experts who reviewed the records.

“The Burgum Farm Partnership will receive 19% of the proceeds of the sales,” said Edward Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, in an email after reviewing the contract.  “The greater benefit is that the Burgum Farm Partnership does not have to invest any money to drill the wells, collect the hydrocarbons (no pipes, no tanks, no roads).”

The royalty payments arrive in monthly and quarterly installments, according to the agreement.

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

The sun sets behind a pumpjack during a gusty night on March 24, 2024 in Fort Stockton, Texas.

Experts note that land holders leasing their property to oil and gas companies can make thousands of dollars more beyond the royalties in bonuses and other payments.

“The company will usually pay the land owner a ‘bonus’ for signing the lease (usually hundreds or thousands of dollars per acre, depending on how hot the market might be),” said Jack Balagia, an adjunct professor at the University of Texas and former general counsel for Exxon Mobil. 

Ryan Kellog, a professor at the University of Chicago who reviewed the contract, said the document does not disclose details of a bonus to the Burgum farm company, except to just give a low range of how much was paid.

“The up-front bonus payment is not disclosed,” Kellog said. “It’s just listed as ‘$10 and more’ where the ‘more’ is potentially significant. Bonuses are almost never disclosed in leases,” Kellog said.

The Burgum contract also says that the family business made money from Continental Resources through one initial down payment called “paid-up” on the lease, with no details provided on how much Burgum and his family saw from that part of the agreement.

“By paid-up, a lease where all cash for the term of the lease is paid upfront, and by a rental form, we mean one with a down payment and rental payments once a year after that,” said Ted Borrego, an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

Burgum drilling contract raises questions

Government ethics experts say the new details on Burgum’s Continental lease deal underscore the fact that if Burgum were to help implement energy policy in a Trump White House — either as his vice president or in a Cabinet position — his work could personally benefit the North Dakota governor and his family.

“There are potentially significant conflict of interest concerns with respect to Mr. Burgum’s oil and gas leases if Trump were to be reelected and Burgum selected to play an administration role” in implementing Trump’s energy policies, said Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel for watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Trump has promised that one of his first acts in office, if elected, will be to implement a “drill, baby, drill” energy policy and end delays in federal drilling permits and leases for American oil and natural gas production.

“A significant conflict of interest concern would arise, for example, if implementation of these policies would affect the value of Burgum’s leased property interests, his oil and gas leases or the royalties he receives from Continental Resources,” said Canter.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum encourages voters to support Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump during a campaign rally in the basement ballroom of The Margate Resort on January 22, 2024 in Laconia, New Hampshire. 

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum encourages voters to support Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump during a campaign rally in the basement ballroom of The Margate Resort on January 22, 2024 in Laconia, New Hampshire. 

Neither of Burgum’s two financial disclosures from his successful runs for governor reveal a land deal with Continental Resources. North Dakota only requires candidates for state office to disclose the names of businesses that do not act as their principal source of income. No other details are required to be disclosed.

Since Burgum first ran for governor in 2016, he’s disclosed to the North Dakota secretary of state’s office that he and his wife Kathryn have a financial interest in over a dozen companies, including Burgum Farm Partnership.

But those three page state records do not specify how much of a financial interest they have in these companies, nor any money they make from those businesses. 

A candidate for president or Congress is required to disclose many more details, including a range of income from each of their assets during the previous 12 months.

Burgum’s federal disclosure report spans 26 pages and reveals scores of closely held LLCs, partnerships and assets. With a net worth easily in the hundreds of millions, the Continental lease forms only a small part of Burgum’s income streams.

Burgum and Trump aligned on energy

Ultimately, it may not matter to Trump whether Burgum has been fully vetted, if the governor is the person he wants on his ticket.

For Trump, Burgum represents a key ally in the oil and gas business, as the former president looks to raise money from the industry’s executives.

Dan Eberhart, who runs oil and gas drilling company Canary, said a Trump/Burgum ticket could help to accomplish this.

“Choosing Burgum would bring more industry donors to Trump’s orbit,” Eberhart said in a recent interview.

“Nominating Burgum as VP would send a strong signal to the industry that we would have an important voice in a potential Trump administration,” he added.

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Harold Hamm after he was introduced by Hamm at the Shale Insight 2019 Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 23, 2019.

Leah Millis | Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Harold Hamm after he was introduced by Hamm at the Shale Insight 2019 Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 23, 2019.

Government ethics watchdogs have also started to take notice of the relationship between Trump, Hamm, Burgum and others linked to the oil and gas industry.

“The fact that Mr. Burgum has an income producing, oil and gas lease arrangement with Continental Resources itself raises its own concerns, since Continental Resources’ executive chairman, Harold Hamm, recently participated with other oil and gas executives and Mr. Burgum in the Mar-a-Lago meeting Mr. Trump held last month seeking $1 billion in fundraising from those in attendance,” said Canter.

“Under these circumstances, Mr. Burgum seems to be uniquely positioned to benefit himself both financially and politically depending on what he is able to bring to the table that would serve the respective interests of Trump and Hamm,” she said.

Hamm’s company has had extensive business in North Dakota for over a decade and the state is ranked in the top three states to produce oil.

In 2022, Hamm announced Continental Resources was investing $250 million into a pipeline that spanned 2,000 miles to capture carbon dioxide and pump it underground for storage in North Dakota. Last year, Hamm donated $50 million to a North Dakota based library.

Hamm’s alliance with Burgum preceded a donation Continental Resources made to a PAC that backed the North Dakota governor when he ran for president. The company gave $250,000 to the pro-Burgum Best of America PAC in July, according to FEC filings.

Burgum’s gubernatorial campaign has regularly been backed by other executives in the oil and gas industry, according to data from the nonpartisan OpenSecrets.

Burgum’s successful campaign for governor in 2020 received over $35,000 from those in the oil and gas industry. That amount is second only to the over $1 million Burgum put into his campaign.

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