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Tim Dunn, the powerhouse GOP donor, to sell his West Texas oil company for $12 billion

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Tim Dunn, the powerhouse GOP donor, to sell his West Texas oil company for $12 billion

Dec 11, 2023 | 4:14 pm ET
By Jayme Lozano Carver Robert Downen
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Tim Dunn, the powerhouse GOP donor, sells his West Texas oil company for $12 billion
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Tim Dunn speaks during The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 24, 2016. On Monday, he sold his West Texas oil company for $12 billion to Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Brett Buchanan for The Texas Tribune)

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Tim Dunn, a West Texas billionaire who has used his oil fortune to turbocharge the state’s far-right political movement, sold his oil company Monday in a deal valued at about $12 billion.

In a statement, Occidental Petroleum Corp. said the company entered into a purchase agreement to acquire the Midland-based CrownRock L.P., a joint business held by Crownquest Operating LLC, Dunn’s company, and Lime Rock Partners. The $12 billion transaction, which includes cash and stock, is expected to close in early 2024.

The sale comes during a time of consolidation in the Permian Basin, an oil-rich stretch of land in West Texas and New Mexico, and after weeks of reports about the potential sale of the drilling company.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said the wealthiest people in the state have a significant say in how policies are shaped. Dunn is a prime example.

“Money is power in Texas politics,” said Rottinghaus. “Dunn’s already shown willingness to spend big to imprint his ideological religious beliefs on the GOP. With more money, he’s likely to pour gas on the fire.”

Dunn is one of the most prolific and influential GOP megadonors in the state, having poured tens of millions of dollars into a sprawling network of political action committees, institutions, campaigns and media websites. Since the mid-2000s, he has been the main financier of groups such as Texans For Fiscal Responsibility and Empower Texans, using them to push his Libertarian economic agenda and turbocharge the state’s nascent Tea Party movement.

Since then, Dunn-funded groups have been increasingly aggressive in pushing his ultraconservative social and religious views. Combined, they have pulled the state further to the right by blasting fellow Republicans as insufficiently conservative and, in some cases, bankrolling primary challengers who attack incumbents as too soft on immigration, LGBTQ+ rights and other far-right stances.

Key to that effort has been Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee that has given nearly $15 million to right-wing candidates since 2021, and has routinely made headlines this year: In October, the Texas Tribune reported that well-known white supremacist and Adolf Hitler admirer Nick Fuentes met with Defend Texas Liberty’s then-president Jonathan Stickland, setting off a political firestorm in the state.

Dunn reportedly said hosting Fuentes was a “serious blunder,” but neither he nor his groups have explained the meeting or responded to subsequent Tribune reporting that uncovered deeper ties between Defend Texas Liberty and other antisemitic or white supremacist figures.

And this summer, Defend Texas Liberty again sparked controversy after giving $3 million to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick before Patrick presided over Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial and acquittal in the Texas Senate. Paxton is a longtime ally of the state’s far right whose political life has been heavily subsidized by Dunn and two other West Texas oilmen; he’s received nearly twice as much from the trio and their families than he has from his second-largest donor, Texans For Lawsuit Reform.

While it’s unclear what role Dunn might play in the 2024 elections, Rottinghaus said Dunn is in a better position than most wealthy benefactors in Texas.

“His influence has mutated in various ways and taken different forms, but the end result is the same,” Rottinghaus said. “And that is his brand of politics becoming the dominant strain of the GOP.”

According to Bloomberg, who first reported the sale, CrownRock is the third-largest private oil producer in the Permian Basin.

In a statement, Dunn said, “The purchase of CrownRock by Occidental is a multi-win proposition. Oxy is committed to the Permian Basin and intends to offer employment to all eligible CrownRock employees, and so it is good for our community.”

Disclosure: Texans for Lawsuit Reform and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.