The Environmental Protection Agency pledged to correct what it called an “error,” after a Democratic senator asked for an investigation into whether EPA chief Scott Pruitt violated federal law by appearing in his official capacity on an Oklahoma GOP fundraiser invitation.
Though government officials are allowed to speak at political fundraisers, they cannot do so in their official capacity. The invitation to a fundraiser for the Oklahoma GOP advertised: “You do not want to miss Pruitt at this year’s OKGOP Gala, as he discusses his plans to slash regulations, bring back jobs to Oklahoma, and decrease the size of the EPA!
“We take the rules by which federal officials must participate in public events very seriously,” EPA spokesperson JP Freire said in a statement to TPM Wednesday. “We worked with our ethics office to ensure attendance at this event would comply with rules, and this flier unfortunately doesn’t reflect those requirements. We are working to fix this error and ensure full compliance with the rules.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) filed a complaint Tuesday over that language with the Office of Special Counsel, writing that Pruitt may have violated the Hatch Act.
Whitehouse said that upon reading the invitation’s description of Pruitt — “Make sure to purchase your Gala tickets so you don’t miss out on Administrator Pruitt’s future plans and how he will continue to Drain the Swamp!” for example — attendees could reasonably believe they were paying a private political party for access to a federal employee.
“The unmistakable impression one receives from the May 5 invitation is that by purchasing a ticket or agreeing to sponsor the OKGOP Gala, the attendee will have special access to a federal employee discussing official actions already taken, and to be taken in the future,” he wrote. “This is clearly impermissible political activity under the Hatch Act.”