House Republicans just backed down after trying to curtail the power of their independent ethics office. President-elect Donald Trump’s potential financial conflicts have ethics watchdogs calling on him to divest.
And now there’s evidence that his nominee for the top job at the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, took action on behalf of major polluters while they were funneling money to his political activities.
It’s created the appearance of an elected official who sees big money-polluting industries as his most important constituent.
In fact, Pruitt’s approach to policymaking looks very much like Pay-to-Play, the notorious method of operation usually associated with big city political machines – under which anyone who seeks government action must contribute cash to benefit the political career of someone in power.
Industry money for Pruitt, favors from Pruitt
While there is no proof Pruitt broke any laws, his repeated collaboration with major polluters undermines confidence in his ability to stand up for everyday Americans as the EPA administrator.
A few examples:
- In 2013, employees at Oklahoma Gas and Electric held a fundraiser for Pruitt. Six days later, Pruitt filed a lawsuit against the EPA in an effort to block a rule that the company opposed.
- In 2014, a natural gas company called Devon Energy gave $125,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association, a political organization Pruitt had led and at which he remained an executive. Two days later, Pruitt wrote a letter to the EPA – the agency he’s now been chosen to lead – objecting to the agency’s proposal to study the impact of fracking on public health and air quality.
- In 2016, Exxon Mobil made a donation of $50,000 to RAGA, the same political group. A month later, Pruitt wrote a newspaper op-ed publicly attacking efforts to investigate whether Exxon deliberately misled investors and the public despite internal research confirming that climate change is real.
The timing of the donations to Pruitt and actions by the state’s top legal officer creates an appearance of impropriety.
In all, his campaigns have taken about $350,000 from energy interests throughout his career. Contributions to political candidates are a regular part of politics, but they also reveal the leanings of elected officials.
Oil and gas lobby: Pruitt “exceeded expectations”
Pruitt’s fundraising went beyond his own campaigns. He was able to build his political power by raising at least $3.5 million from traditional energy interests while serving in the leadership of the Republican Attorneys General Association.
In March 2014, Pruitt joined an organization chaired by Harold Hamm, the billionaire CEO of oil and gas company Continental Resources, in suing the U.S. Department of Interior to prevent it from adding animals to the endangered species list. Just two weeks later, Continental Resources donated $25,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association.
The president of the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance was so pleased with the lawsuit that he told a reporter that Pruitt had “exceeded our expectations.”
Pruitt admits he’s an advocate for industry
What may be most disturbing is that Pruitt has defended his efforts on behalf of these companies, saying, “That’s actually called representative government in my view of the world.”
Even if none of this is illegal, he apparently views his current office as a post from which to advocate for industry, rather than for the average citizen. It may also be why he shut down his office’s environmental enforcement unit.
If Pruitt’s world view is disturbing for a state attorney general, imagine what might happen if the Senate entrusted him with keeping our nation’s air and water clean. It’s an ethical smog that could literally make us sick.