Press Releases

Carper, Whitehouse, Merkley and Markey Seek Information on Pruitt’s Hatch Act Compliance Plans in Wake of Near Violation at OKGOP Fundraiser

EPW members seek all information related to Administrator Pruitt’s scheduled keynote speech at an Oklahoma GOP fundraiser after its quick cancellation last week following a formal complaint to Office of Special Counsel

May 01 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s cancellation last week of a scheduled keynote speech at a May 5 Oklahoma Republican Party (OKGOP) gala, EPW Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.) along with Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), today called on EPA to turn over all documents related to the circumstances of the planned event. EPA announced cancellation of the event after Senator Whitehouse submitted a formal complaint to the Office of Special Counsel citing an event invitation that invoked Administrator Pruitt’s official position to publicize and sell tickets in order to raise money for the Oklahoma Republican Party.  The Senators also seek information on steps Administrator Pruitt is taking to ensure his compliance with the Hatch Act going forward.

The Senators wrote, “Many of us raised concerns during your confirmation process that your long track record of making direct political solicitations from companies and industries you now regulate, participating in political fundraising events, and chairing the boards of political organizations like the Republican Attorney Generals Association (RAGA) and the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), presented a high risk of conflicts of interest.  The circumstances surrounding the May 5 Gala exacerbate those concerns.  Devon Energy and Koch Industries, for example, are two of the companies with direct financial ties to you and the OKGOP and that are regulated by EPA.  Had you attended the Gala, your presence there would reasonably have been seen as an opportunity to curry favor with you by making political donations to your political allies.”

The Hatch Act permits federal employees to speak at a political fundraiser as long as they are not on duty, appear only in their personal capacity, and do not solicit political contributions. Considering the OKGOP invitation text clearly invoked Administrator Pruitt’s official position to publicize and sell tickets to the gala and raise money for the OKGOP, his participation would have violated the Hatch Act.  

Full text of the letter to Administrator Pruitt can be found below and in pdf form here

May 1, 2017 

Dear Administrator Pruitt:

We appreciate your decision to cancel your keynote speech at the May 5 Oklahoma Republican Party (OKGOP) Gala.  The attached invitation, which first came to light on April 24, mentioned your official position three times, featured a photo of you being sworn in as the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, and promised a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to hear you discuss your “plans to slash regulations, bring back jobs to Oklahoma, and decrease the size of the EPA!”  The Hatch Act permits federal employees like yourself to speak at a political fundraiser as long as you are not on duty, appear only in your personal capacity, and do not solicit political contributions.  Considering the invitation text clearly invoked your official position to publicize and sell tickets to the gala and raise money for the OKGOP, your participation would have violated the Hatch Act.  

Many of us raised concerns during your confirmation process that your long track record of making direct political solicitations from companies and industries you now regulate, participating in political fundraising events, and chairing the boards of political organizations like the Republican Attorney Generals Association (RAGA) and the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), presented a high risk of conflicts of interest.  The circumstances surrounding the May 5 Gala exacerbate those concerns.  Devon Energy and Koch Industries, for example, are two of the companies with direct financial ties to you and the OKGOP and that are regulated by EPA.  Had you attended the Gala, your presence there would reasonably have been seen as an opportunity to curry favor with you by making political donations to your political allies. 

The complaint made against you requested the Office of Special Counsel conduct a “full investigation into the facts and circumstances of this matter.”  We agree that a full investigation is necessary.  To that end, we request you provide the following information so we can also conduct appropriate oversight into this matter:

  • All documents and communications between you and any member of your staff and the OKGOP or anyone working on its behalf since February 17, 2017.    
  • All documents and communications related to your participation in the May 5 OKGOP Gala, including any ethics advisories, counseling notes, or opinions issued for this event, drafts of the event invitation, and comments or communications on those drafts.
  • Any other materials you or anyone at EPA relied upon to determine that your participation in the May 5 OKGOP Gala was, or was not, permitted under the Hatch Act. 
  • All documents and communications related to participation by EPA staff, including your security detail, related to the May 5 OKGOP Gala and any other events you planned on attending during that trip. 
  • All documents and communications related to the payment of travel, accommodation, and other expenses related to the May 5 OKGOP Gala and any other events you planned on attending during that trip. 
  • All documents and communications related to any other political fundraisers you have already attended at Administrator, been invited to attend, and have agreed to attend in the future.
  • All documents that detail your plans for ensuring that for future political events the Designated Agency Ethics Official at EPA receives draft copies of any promotional materials and description of the role you have been invited to play at such events before you agree to participate in them, in order to ensure that your participation complies with all applicable requirements.

In responding to these requests, please include any memos or other hard-copy documents and communications conducted over official and unofficial electronic mail accounts, social media accounts, and encrypted messaging applications (e.g., Confide, Signal, and Whisper).  We request the courtesy of a response no later than May 19, 2017. 

Sincerely,                                  

Thomas R. Carper                                                       Sheldon Whitehouse

United States Senator                                                 United States Senator 

 

                                   

Jeffrey A. Merkley                                                      Edward J. Markey

United States Senator                                                 United States Senator