January 18, 2017

Ethics Officials Confirm Gap in Reporting Laws for Dark Money

Washington, DC – Today, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) top ethics official responded to Senate letters regarding EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt and revealed a significant gap in ethics reporting requirements that allows cabinet nominees to avoid disclosing potentially serious conflicts of interest. 

“These letters make it clear that it’s on Scott Pruitt to come clean to the United States Senate about the kind of dark money influence that’s been steering his work as Oklahoma Attorney General,” said Senator Whitehouse  (D-RI), who led the letters to the officials.  “From what we can see, he’s persistently sided with fossil fuel corporations and other polluting industries over the people he was elected to serve.  We have to know exactly who he’s working for if he’s going to assume a seat in the President-elect’s cabinet and lead an agency charged with protecting the health and wellbeing of millions of Americans.”

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, Tom Carper (D-DE), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) sent the letters to the ethics officials last week.  To the Office of Government Ethics, the Senators sought to clarify Pruitt’s obligation to disclose critical information on his close ties to “dark money” and political spending groups connected to the fossil fuel industry.  To the EPA’s Designated Agency Ethics Official, they asked for information on the numerous legal challenges Pruitt, in his capacity as Oklahoma Attorney General, has either led or joined against the EPA that also involve entities from whom Pruitt has solicited money.

Pruitt has been linked to a range of organizations funded by large corporations that have major interests in litigation Pruitt has led.  For instance, Pruitt has drawn attention for, as Oklahoma Attorney General, quietly slowing down efforts to protect Oklahomans from devastating nutrient pollution; Pruitt’s actions “came after he had taken tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from executives and lawyers for the poultry industry.” Pruitt has also played a central role in developing and running an offshoot of the Republican Attorney Generals Association, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which has helped to coordinate a range of challenges to the EPA and has been closely linked to fossil fuel interests.  Most of the Fund’s activities and backers remain a secret; the New York Times has reported the Fund is a “legal entity that allows companies benefiting from the actions of Mr. Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general to make anonymous donations, in unlimited amounts.”  Pruitt has yet to respond to questions about the Fund.

The OGE and EPA letters are available here and here.


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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921