What’s it take to become ‘energy congressman of the world’? A video series, perhaps

Hard-hat-wearing Texas Republican Wesley Hunt touts industry

Wesley Hunt
Republican House candidate Wesley Hunt, right, speaks with drilling engineer Ryan Morath during a visit to an oil rig in Hobbs, N.M., as part of a video series produced by Hunt's campaign. (Screenshot/Courtesy Wesley Hunt for Congress)
Posted July 21, 2022 at 5:30am

Some congressional candidates might try to obscure their devotion to a particular industry. Not Wesley Hunt. 

“I just want to keep hitting home the fact that I’ll be the energy congressman of the world here, and this is my No. 1 top priority,” said Hunt, the Republican nominee in Texas’ new Houston-area, energy-stocked 38th District.

To that end, his campaign is embarking on an unusual effort of producing a documentary-style video series featuring oil and gas companies in his district and well beyond it. Think of it as political ads meet reality TV — or, in Hunt’s words, a cross between “‘Dirty Jobs’ and Travel Channel for the oil and gas industry.” 

Hunt, a veteran who piloted helicopters in the Army and is all but assured a seat in the House next year representing the solidly GOP district, said his jaunts to oil rigs and other industry operations from Alaska to Pennsylvania and, of course, Texas will help him prepare to serve in Congress. He also wants to showcase the people who work in the field. 

“These are the heroes that you never hear about,” Hunt, donning a hard hat, narrates in the first episode, slated to run in September, where his small crew chronicles the workings at a Mewbourne Oil Co. facility in Hobbs, N.M.

He expects to rely on such tours on Capitol Hill.  

“At some point I’m going to be sitting in hearings,” he said, noting that he will seek a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee. “I want to know what I’m talking about.” 

Current lawmakers, he added, betray a lack of understanding in their questions during congressional hearings. “Why? They’ve never been on a rig. They’ve never been offshore,” he surmised. “They’ve never actually talked to people that work in the industry every single day, and I want to use that to educate myself.”

Hunt, who said he once did an internship with Chevron Corp., says the 38th District has a reputation as an energy capital of the world. “What I’ve discovered is that literally every single job in the district, all 800,000 people, are in some way tangentially related to the oil and gas industry,” he said. “So my mandate actually is to represent the people of this district well, and that means becoming a subject matter expert on the oil and gas and energy industry.”

Made for TV

Still, it’s an uncommon move to document such fact-finding in a made-for-TV style. 

Hunt’s campaign says it’s producing the roughly 10-minute videos in-house, with a staff of three: Hunt, communications director Matt Topolski and campaign manager James Kyrkanides. The episodes will begin running on a website branded as Saving American Energy in September, with eight planned through October, the peak of the campaign season. 

Legal experts say campaigns have broad leeway in how to spend money they raise so long as it’s not for a candidate’s personal use, although broadcast campaign ads must include specific disclosures. The focus on individual companies in Hunt’s series may present questions about whether those companies might be seen as offering an endorsement or, worse, a prohibited in-kind contribution. 

“It seems to me like what he’s doing is producing campaign communications that are designed to appeal to his constituency in an original way,” said Saurav Ghosh, director of federal reform for the Campaign Legal Center, who previously worked as a lawyer in the Federal Election Commission’s general counsel’s office.

Ghosh said if the videos create an impression that the companies are giving the campaign “something of value,” that could run afoul of prohibited in-kind contributions. But, he said, it would be a tough argument to make if a candidate is surveying various oil and gas companies and saying it’s the type of work he’d support in office, especially if it’s not really clear that the companies are supportive of the campaign. 

Hunt said his campaign has abided by FEC, Federal Communications Commission and House ethics guidelines. “We’ve been very careful,” he said. “We have all the disclaimers on all of our videos. So we’ve definitely done our due diligence there.” 

In a trailer promoting the series, Hunt says: “I’m Wesley Hunt, and I’m running for Congress to restore, defend and preserve American energy independence. But I can't do it alone. That’s why I’m traveling the country in search of the brave, patriotic and innovative leaders that power our lives.” That trailer also serves as an intro to the first episode.

‘Hop on a plane’

The candidate said he’s not using the trips to energy operations to raise campaign money.  

“We hop on a plane. It’s a three-man crew, and it’s not fundraising or anything,” he said. Instead, it’s more of a “crash course on what they do every single day. And then we hop on a plane and turn around and come back home.”

Hunt has been a prodigious fundraiser in this campaign, his second run for Congress after losing in 2020 to Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in the 7th District. His campaign reported total receipts of $4.2 million with $2.1 million cash on hand as of June 30 and has disclosed donations from the PACs of Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips and Marathon Petroleum.

Hunt criticized President Joe Biden’s recent trip to the Middle East, including to Saudi Arabia, where the president was seeking the help of oil-producing countries in lowering high gas prices. 

“It’s actually pretty pathetic to me that we’re begging the Saudis for oil,” Hunt said. He pointed to U.S. energy sources, such as the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico and the Marcellus Shale in the east, among others, and said the Biden administration had been “very restrictive” of the domestic oil and gas industry. 

“We have the resources right here in our country to be energy-independent, to be exporters of energy,” he added.