Dems call for Pruitt to disclose legal fund donors

Source: Kevin Bogardus and George Cahlink, E&E News reporters • Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2018

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s legal defense fund could prove to be another target for his critics.

At a Senate hearing this morning, Pruitt confirmed he had set up a fund as he deals with multiple investigations into allegations of excessive spending and misuse of his Cabinet-level office as EPA chief. Democrats who have pushed for his resignation or firing are now discussing Pruitt’s fund and how its donors must be disclosed.

“He is going to disclose all donors to it because there’s a massive problem in terms of conflict of interest,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member on the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees EPA and held this morning’s hearing.

When told about Pruitt’s legal defense fund, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) laughed. “That’s interesting,” he said.

Carper, ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said few people, including past EPA administrators, have ever thought of setting up such funds.

“This would be unique,” he said.

Under questioning from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) at today’s hearing, Pruitt acknowledged the fund had been created.

Asked whether he would disclose donors, Pruitt said he would.

“They will be published, yes. Pursuant to the requirements of disclosures, yes,” he said.

The EPA chief was also asked whether he would commit to not accept donations from lobbyists or corporations with business interests before the agency.

“Absolutely, yes,” Pruitt said.

EPA press officials didn’t respond to questions from E&E News asking for more information about Pruitt’s fund.

The Office of Government Ethics has said legal defense funds shouldn’t have secret donors.

In a memosent last September to agency ethics officials, David Apol, OGE’s acting director and general counsel, said such funds need to follow ethics rules, including those governing gifts from outside sources, conflict of interest regulations and the lobbyist gift ban set out in President Trump’s executive order on ethics.

“OGE has been advising, and is continuing to advise, that the instruments establishing legal defense funds include a clause stating that ‘contributions shall not be accepted from anonymous sources,'” Apol said.

Apol also noted federal employees should consult OGE and its respective agency ethics officials when setting up a legal defense fund.

The Washington Postreportedthat Cleta Mitchell was the lawyer who helped set up Pruitt’s legal defense fund. A partner at Foley & Lardner LLP, Mitchell is a well-known Republican political law attorney.

She told the newspaper that Pruitt is a friend and client but declined to discuss her work on his behalf. Mitchell didn’t respond to a request for comment from E&E News.