dr Mehmet Oz has championed the oil and gas industry as he sees to win a coveted Senate seat in Pennsylvania.
The former TV personality’s vocal support for the energy business follows years of industry donations to his nonprofit and then his campaign, according to financial records reviewed by CNBC. Oz also has a personal stake in oil and gas through investments in two major energy companies, according to his financial disclosures.
Pennsylvania’s next senator will be a key vote for the energy industry, as it has a major presence in the Keystone State. Pennsylvania is the nation’s second-largest natural gas producer after Texas and the third-largest coal producer, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Oz backed the energy industry this year as Americans felt the strain from spiking gas prices. In a recent interview, he ripped President Joe Biden after he called on companies that run gas stations to bring down prices at the pump.
“Now, they’re blaming the energy companies for the gas prices. And I’m thinking, like most Americans, what are you talking about? I mean, you did things that make it, make it impossible for these companies to exist, ” Oz said in a July interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity. He called Biden’s comments “class warfare.”
As Oz champions oil and gas in his bid to represent Pennsylvania in the Senate, both his campaign and personal coffers have benefited from the industry and its executives.
Oz, a veteran physician and television host, is running against Democrat John Fetterman for a Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. Oz is trailing Fetterman by just under 8 percentage points in an average of recent polls, according to RealClearPolitics. Fetterman’s campaign has raised over $25 million, while Oz and his team have brought in just over $18 million, according to data from the nonpartisan OpenSecrets.
Oz and his wife, Lisa, have a financial stake in the industry he has championed, as they own shares of oil and gas giants ConocoPhillips and Pioneer Natural Resources, according to their financial disclosure report. The filing notes they own shares of ConocoPhillips valued between $15,001 and $50,000 and Pioneer stock valued between $1,001 and $15,000.
Oz’s connections to the industry formed before he pursued politics.
His nonprofit HealthCorps, which promotes itself as a group aiming to help teens with their health and wellness, has seen at least $210,000 in contributions from gas and oil producer Continental Resources since 2016, according to the group’s annual financial reports. Continental’s support has continued into Oz’s Senate bid: The company’s founder and chair, Harold Hamm, endorsed Oz for Senate in an April campaign video.
The backing from energy industry leaders has led to contributions to Oz’s campaign.
Hamm is among a group of over a dozen oil and gas industry leaders who have combined to contribute over $200,000 to Oz’s campaign since he announced his run for Senate late last year, according to a CNBC review of Federal Election Commission filings. Others with ties to the oil and gas business who have donated at least $2,900 to Oz’s campaign include Jimmy Haslam, an owner of the Cleveland Browns and chair of Pilot Company, a business that owns fueling stations across the country. His father and Pilot founder, James Haslam II, also donated to the Oz campaign.
Other top energy donors in recent months include Brad Cox, the chair of oil producer Cox Operating, and Janet Cafaro, the president of Silcor Oilfield Services, FEC records show.
Jimmy Haslam and his wife, Susan “Dee” Haslam, combined to give $50,000 to the per-Oz super PAC American Leadership Action.
Jimmy and Dee Haslam told CNBC in a statement that they have “tremendous respect for the long, successful career Dr. Oz has had in the private sector and appreciate that he now wants to serve his country by bringing his expertise and experience to the United States Senates.” The Haslam family, as of 2015, had a net worth of $6 billion, according to Forbes.
Representatives for Cox and Cafaro did not return requests for comment.
Hamm told CNBC in a statement that he considers Oz a “friend.” He said the two have known each other for almost a decade, with the goal of bringing HealthCorps’ services into Oklahoma schools.
Hamm explained that he believes Oz will be a key advocate for the energy sector, which has enriched the oil billionaire. He and his family have a net worth of at least $21 billion, according to Forbes.
“Dr. Oz will champion American energy in the US Senate much like he’s championed health his entire career,” Hamm said.
The nonprofit’s annual reports from 2016 through 2020 give a range of how much donors contributed to HealthCorps. Continental Resources regularly ranked among the Oz group’s top backers. The company is often listed as donating between $50,000 and $99,999 during those years. A HealthCorps filing says it received a range of $10,000 to just under $25,000 from Continental in 2018.
In its earlier filings before 2016, HealthCorps lists Continental as either a “national” or a “community” sponsor. The group’s website notes that its national sponsors contribute $1 million and its community donors write checks for $250,000. The disclosures pre-2016 do not say or show a range of how much the company gave those years.
Oz’s support from the massive energy industry coincides with an apparent shift in his opinion on fracking, which allows companies to drill deep into the earth for oil and gas resources. Critics say that fracking hurts the environment by harming water supplies and polluting the air.
Before Oz ran for Senate, he repeatedly wrote columns that took aim at fracking, noting its potential threat to public health, Vice reports.
“And in Pennsylvania, there are multiple reports of air and water contamination, possibly from hydraulic fracturing sites, causing folks breathing problems, rashes, headaches, nosebleeds, numbness, nausea and vomiting,” Oz said in a 2014 column critical of fracking.
Brittany Yanick, a spokeswoman for the Oz campaign, said the candidate has not changed his view on fracking and is a strong supporter of the drilling method. She also took aim at Fetterman’s position on the issue.
“As a scientist, Dr. Oz understands that, like with COVID, the Biden administration is ignoring the science and the benefits of natural gas in order to satisfy the radical Left, the same liberal Democrats that are supporting radical environmental measures and funding John Fetterman’s campaign,” Yanick said in an emailed statement. “John Fetterman has called fracking a ‘stain’ on Pennsylvania, he’s called for a moratorium on fracking, and he would be a rubber stamp for the failing Biden Agenda.”
Fetterman has a mixed history with where he stands on fracking. Inside Climate News reported that Fetterman dropped his support for a fracking moratorium after his failed 2016 primary run for Senate. His position evolved after the state moved toward stricter regulations on fracking.
Emilia Rowland, a spokeswoman for Fetterman’s campaign, told CNBC that “John does not support a ban on fracking in Pennsylvania and that includes a moratorium on new fracking sites.” She said he hasn’t taken any campaign money from the fossil fuel industry.
“John believes fully heartedly that we have to preserve the union way of life for the thousands of workers currently employed by the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania and the communities where they live. We can’t just abandon these people, and tell them to go learn how to code,” Rowland said in a statement. “It’s a totally false choice that we have to choose between jobs and a clean environment. That’s just not true. We can have both.”
Still, Oz appears more vocal than Fetterman in publicly supporting the oil and gas industry. In a recent op-ed, he said it’s “gross, and deeply unpatriotic” for oil companies to charge high gas prices while their businesses are making massive profits. Fetterman namechecked Chevron, Exxon and Shell in the op-ed.
Oz has rubbed elbows with industry officials during his campaign.
He was invited to a June “energy industry meet and greet” by longtime lobbyist Missy Edwards. The invite says the meeting was set to take place at Edwards’ offices in Washington. Her current clients include Southern Company and General Motors, OpenSecrets says.
A spokeswoman for General Motors said she was “not sure if GM had a representative in attendance.” Edwards and a representative for Southern Company did not return requests for comment.