On Thursday, January 12, Senate Democrats raised another set of conflict of interest concerns about Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In a letter to the Office of Government Ethics, members of the Senate's environment panel requested more background on Pruitt's dealings with the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which Pruitt led for two years while coordinating with other state AGs to combat the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan.
“During his tenure as Attorney General of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt has blurred the distinction between official and political actions, often at the behest of corporations he will regulate if confirmed to lead EPA,” the letter said. “Public reporting based on documents produced by Freedom of Infomation Act requests illustrate how Mr. Pruitt and members of his staff have worked closely with fossil fuel lobbyists to craft his office's official positions.”
Wednesday, January 18, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold its hearing on Pruitt's nomination to serve as the Administrator of the EPA. As DeSmog and others have reported time and again, Pruitt is an outspoken climate denier with close ties to the fossil fuel industry, especially Oklahoma's rich oil and gas companies, who has sued the very agency he is set to lead over a dozen times to block air, water, and climate regulations.
The close ties to the fossil fuel industry help explain the climate denial and consistent opposition to EPA regulation, so we mapped out those connections. As you can see in the LittleSis network map below, Pruitt has benefitted from a variety of political action committees (PACs and Super PACs) with fossil fuel allegiances. Perhaps even more damning and revealing are his close affiliations with the Republican Attorneys General Assocation (RAGA) and the Rule of Law Defense Fund that he launched, as well as his longstanding ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The letter from Senate Democrats specifically requests more information about the PACs, RAGA, and the Rule of Law Defense Fund.
Political Action Committees Supporting Pruitt
The new group, Protecting America Now, warns that Pruitt’s confirmation “is not a certainty” and says that millions of dollars are needed for advertising and social media campaigns to counter anti-Pruitt campaigning from “anti-business, environmental extremists,” according to a flier obtained by POLITICO.
The flier assures donors that PAN’s 501(c)(4) status means individual and corporate donors can remain anonymous, and asks for contributions ranging from $25,000 to $500,000.
Protecting America Now isn't the first PAC formed to support Pruitt. Also according to Politico, “Two PACs — formed in 2015, following Pruitt’s unopposed 2014 reelection — have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past two years.”
By 2015, Pruitt was seeking to widen his fundraising net. On Feb. 2 of that year, a multi-candidate political committee set up by former Pruitt campaign staff members set up shop at 15 West 6th St. in Tulsa, FEC filings show. The Oklahoma Strong Leadership PAC is able to accept limited donations and coordinate with Pruitt, enabling the Oklahoma attorney general to funnel money to preferred political candidates across the country. The downtown Tulsa address is the same as that of Pruitt's campaign office.
Meanwhile, the America Rising PAC and America Rising Squared are running ads supporting the Pruitt nomination in red states with Democratic senators, and launched the ConfirmPruitt.com website.
The Republican Attorneys General Association and the Rule of Law Defense Fund
Pruitt served as chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA). All told, RAGA has received nearly $4 million from fossil fuel interests since 2014.
According to documents obtained by watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) — and reported by Bloomberg News — representatives of coal companies Murray Energy and Southern Company and other fossil fuel-intensive energy companies, lobbying organizations, and front groups paid to attend a secretive, lavish August 2015 Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) summit in West Virginia. The event was just one week before Republican state attorneys general asked federal courts to reject the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. CMD identified Murray Energy and Southern Company as having paid to secure private briefings with attorneys general, including Pruitt, at the annual summit.
At that same event, Pruitt sat on a panel called “The Dangerous Consequences of the Clean Power Plan & Other EPA Rules” with representatives from Murray Energy and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), which donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to RAGA for that benefit.
According to CMD, “corporations can pay a premium rate RAGA membership fee of up to $125,000 for the privilege of holding private briefings with attorneys general and their staff, as well as attending the annual meeting.”
While serving as chairman of RAGA, Pruitt also launched the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF). The fund is set up as a 501(c)(4) non-profit that isn't required to disclose its donors. However it was reported by Politico that the non-profit received $175,000 from Freedom Partners, which coordinates the Koch brothers' political activities.
And CMD found that the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade association for the utility sector that has already engaged in litigation in an attempt to block the Clean Power Plan, also funded the RLDF in 2014 with a $25,000 donation.
At an April 2016 meeting, the Rule of Law Defense Fund hosted a panel on “the future of the fight to stop the Clean Power Plan,” according to CMD's investigation.
In November 2016, Pruitt stepped down as chairman of the RLDF and then resigned as a board member in December.
In January 2017, six Democrats on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee “wrote to Pruitt asking for the names of donors, meeting information, internal emails and other details related to his director status at the nonprofit.”
Pruitt's American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Ties
Earlier in his career, when he was a state representative, Pruitt was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and a task force chair. In 2003, he was quoted in an article:
“ALEC is unique in the sense that it puts legislators and companies together and they create policy collectively.” In Pruitt’s opinion, the regular legislative process doesn’t allow for enough time listening to business. “The actual stakeholders who are affected by policy aren’t at the table as much as they should be … Serving with them is very beneficial, in my opinion.”
ALEC connects lawmakers with corporate lobbyists to produce model bills that are then introduced in legislatures across the country. Model bills can be brought to ALEC by the lobbyists themselves, which has led some to describe this organization as a “corporate bill mill.” In fact, in December 2015, ALEC brought together state legislators to develop a model bill that would dismantle the Clean Power Plan, and featured a speaker who said, “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It is a benefit. It is the very elixir of life.”
Pruitt, then as attorney general, spoke at the ALEC 2014 annual meeting where he criticized the EPA and the Keep It In The Ground campaign.
Pruitt was also part of another session at that year’s event, specifically about the EPA. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, “In keeping with ALEC’s longtime denial of both the science and solutions to climate change, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a Republican, spoke about proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits on carbon pollution. That session was sponsored by the world’s largest publicly owned coal company, Peabody Energy, and the trade association for the coal industry, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), of which Peabody is a member.”
Will Senators Ask About Scott Pruitt's Fossil Fuel Benefactors and EPA Opposition?
The Senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee would be well served to check out Vermont Law School professor Pat Parenteau's recent piece for Grist, which outlines 10 legal questions that should be asked of Pruitt. (Full disclosure: I took a course on Climate Change and the Law from Prof. Parenteau.) Pruitt's allegiance to fossil fuel companies should be also closely examined during the hearing, and the letter sent by the committee's Democratic members on Thursday indicates that they will be.
In particular, he should be asked about dark money flowing into the Rule of Law Defense Fund — who donated to the 501(c)(4) that he created, what was said and promised at their private meetings and in emails between fossil fuel companies and the organization while he was director. His ties to ALEC should also be examined, as he served as a Task Force Chair and has spoken on panels as recently as 2014.
The Senate confirmation hearing will be the only chance for our elected officials to ask Pruitt under oath to speak to the glaring conflicts of interest that he has developed during his tenures at ALEC and RAGA, and to get answers about the purpose and operations of the secretive Rule of Law Defense Fund.