Pruitt Likely to Bow Out of Fundraising Gala Over Legal Concerns

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By Brian Dabbs

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt will likely bow out of an upcoming event to avoid violating a law on mixing government activity and political fundraising, an agency spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA April 26.

That tentative determination came only hours after Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) alleged Pruitt would likely violate the Hatch Act by attending an Oklahoma Republican Party fundraising gala May 5.

A flier publicizing the event includes Pruitt’s full title and appears to directly link the former Oklahoma attorney general to the fundraising effort, according to a watchdog official. That messaging appears to violate the law, officially called the Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, even according to an EPA primer.

Whitehouse asked the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) to investigate.

‘Probably’ Won’t Go

“We’re going to try to fix it and if not we just won’t go,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told Bloomberg BNA. “We probably just won’t end up going.” Bowman labeled the situation a “misunderstanding” between EPA and the Oklahoma party, which didn’t respond to a Bloomberg BNA request for comment.

“During his short tenure as EPA Administrator, Pruitt has overseen the rollback of the Waters of the US rule, called for an exit from the Paris Climate Agreement, and championed a return to EPA ‘originalism,’” the flier reads. “You do not want to miss Pruitt at this year’s OKGOP Gala, as he discusses his plans to slash regulations, bring back jobs to Oklahoma, and decrease the size of the EPA!”

Bowman said the agency wants to ensure it stays in compliance with ethics rules.

“We take the rules by which federal officials must participate in public events very seriously,” she said. “We worked with our ethics office to ensure attendance at this event would comply with rules, and this flier unfortunately doesn’t reflect those requirements.”

An OSC official declined to comment but pointed to the Hatch Act provision that prohibits the use of an official title in fundraising communications.

Violation a ‘Foregone Conclusion’

The flier is a clear-cut violation of the act, watchdog groups said April 26.

“This is a direct intermingling of official duties and title and political fundraising,” Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, told Bloomberg BNA. A violation is “a foregone conclusion for this event. They’ve already received funds and the flier has already gone out.”

The party can schedule another event that complies with the Hatch Act and still have Pruitt attend, Holman said.

Holman linked the flier to what he called a broader disregard for ethics rules in the administration of President Donald Trump, and another watchdog group said the situation represents another blip in Pruitt’s personal record.

“As Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt used his position to peddle the agendas of oil and gas companies. Now, not even three months into his tenure as head of the EPA, he appears to be violating ethics laws,” Nick Surgey, research director of the Center for Media and Democracy, said in a statement. Surgey’s group is still litigating the disclosure of Pruitt’s email correspondence with the fossil fuel industry as attorney general.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Dabbs in Washington at bdabbs@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

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