Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt made a propaganda video for a private group opposing regulations he is supposed to be enforcing and he did it on the taxpayer’s dime. Now Democrats want him investigated, as he may have broken the law.
Democrats say Pruitt may have violated the Antideficiency Act, as well as other federal laws, in using taxpayer dollars for lobbying or propaganda purposes.
“In August 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared in a video advertisement for the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) urging farmers and ranchers to speak up on EPA’s efforts to withdraw an Obama-era, clean water protection rule called the ‘Waters of the United States’ (WOTUS). In addition, the video displays a graphic encouraging viewers to visit the website of the NCBA ‘to file your WOTUS comments today!’ NCBA’s website includes a number of hyperlinks urging viewers to directly contact their elected officials in Congress and urge further Congressional action to overturn the Clean Water Rule,” the Democrats wrote in a letter last week.
Citing prohibitions against federal officials using taxpayer funds for publicity or propaganda, including “for the preparation, distribution or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, radio, television, or film presentation designed to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress,” top Democrats asked the head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for a legal ruling on whether Pruitt violated federal rules.
They charge, “EPA effectively constructed a message, delivered by the Administrator, and intended for the NCBA to distribute that message through an online video. Additionally, the viewing audience may be unable to discern the source of that message, because in the video, the EPA Administrator’s image, name, and title appear alongside the name and logo of the NCBA.”
The “unable to discern the source of the message” part is key, because the Democrats also cite a rule against covert propaganda via Section 718 of the Financial Services and General Government Act, 2017, “No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used directly or indirectly, including by private contractor, for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by Congress.
The purpose of the publicity or propaganda prohibition is to ensure that the government identifies itself as the source of its communications. GAO has interpreted this language to restrict, among other things, ‘covert propaganda’, defined as ‘communications that fail to disclose the agency’s role as the source of the information.’”
This is no one-off for Pruitt, who was already busted for meeting near-daily with those he is supposed to be regulating.
Pruitt sued the EPA at least 14 times before being put in the position to enforce the laws he doesn’t support. He has expressed skepticism over man-made climate change, which is kind of a big deal for the chief of the EPA. If ever there were a Fox guarding the hen house, it’s Scott Pruitt.
And Pruitt follows the Trump cabinet model of scamming the taxpayers.
Pruitt is already in hot water for his Thursday flights west to Oklahoma (where he lives) and large, unusually large security entourage, which is “triple the manpower of his predecessors” and oddly requires pulling agents investigating environmental crimes to cover Pruitt.
But The Washington Post reported on the broadening investigation into his travel habits into his later travel, “The move came after recent disclosures that Pruitt had taken at least four noncommercial and military flights since mid-February, costing taxpayers more than $58,000 to fly him to various parts of the country, according to records provided to a congressional oversight committee and obtained by The Washington Post.”
Pruitt spent almost $25,000 of taxpayer funds on a secure phone booth so that Pruitt, already in trouble for using a private email address as Oklahoma’s attorney general, can communicate “privately.” However, a system already existed to grant privacy for the EPA chief.
Pruitt is among his own people in the Trump administration as the list of officials under investigation for misuse of taxpayer funds grows and HHS head Tom Price was forced to resign over his use of taxpayer funded private charted jets after he spent $1,000,000 of taxpayer funds on travel.
Republicans have very pro-corporate “beliefs” about environmental protections- that is, they are against them, and so Pruitt’s bent is expected under a Republican president. That doesn’t give him the right to make covert propaganda against clean water regulations, much less use a taxpayer funded trip to do.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.