(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Rep. Don Beyer today led a group of five House Democratic leaders requesting information from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) about Pruitt’s legal defense fund. Pruitt confirmed the existence of the fund to Senators in a hearing last week, but key details have not yet been made public or provided to Congress, which potentially raises a series of ethics concerns. Pruitt’s fund is intended to help cover legal costs related to the many federal investigations into his misconduct.
The Representatives wrote:
“We understand your purpose in creating such a fund, given the investigations into your misconduct by the House of Representatives, Senate, White House, Office of Management and Budget, and the Government Accountability Office, and the many reviews being conducted by the EPA Office of the Inspector General (OIG). We have serious misgivings, however, about the potential ethical problems raised by such a fund, given your abysmal track record in such matters. We urge you to take all possible steps to mitigate any potential for conflicts of interest.
“We are also concerned about the possibility of anonymous donations to your legal defense fund, as such donations could easily bypass prohibitions on donations from lobbyists and special interests with business before the EPA. We note that, while federal regulations merely require the disclosure of donations above $390, recent guidance from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) advises “that the instruments establishing legal defense funds include a clause stating that ‘contributions shall not be accepted from anonymous sources.’”
“We are aware that you may be permitted, under OGE guidance, to avoid making public disclosures of donations to his legal defense fund until May of 2019. We strongly urge against any such delay in transparency, as lax disclosure would worsen already-severe mistrust of your leadership by Congress and the public.”
The letter was signed by Beyer and Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), and Ted Lieu (D-CA), a group which includes the Ranking and Vice-Ranking Members of the House Judiciary Committee and the Vice-Ranking Members of the House Science Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Signed copies are available of the letters to EPA IG Arthur Elkins and to Administrator Scott Pruitt.