Pruitt discloses billionaire defense fund donor

By Kevin Bogardus | 12/06/2018 04:41 PM EST

A billionaire businesswoman and film producer gave $50,000 to former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s legal defense fund, according to a financial disclosure report released today.

Then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the Senate in May.

Then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the Senate in May. Kris Tripplaar/Sipa USA/Newscom

This story was updated at 5:26 p.m. EST.

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has disclosed a single donor to his legal defense fund.

Diane Hendricks of Beloit, Wis., gave $50,000 to Pruitt’s fund, according to the last financial disclosure report filed by the ex-agency head, which EPA released today.


Hendricks is a billionaire businesswoman and film producer. She is also a well-known Republican donor who served as an economic adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Pruitt set up the fund as he battled with ethics allegations that eventually led to his resignation from EPA. The report, also known as his termination report, covers Pruitt’s finances for the 2018 calendar year up to his departure from the agency in early July.

Included on the report is a note from Justina Fugh, a senior EPA ethics official, saying Pruitt did not seek ethics advice from EPA before accepting the contribution from Hendricks. In addition, "EPA ethics officials did not know of this contribution — believed to be in cash — until they received the termination report."

Pruitt also disclosed business income of $54,166 made by his wife, Marlyn, under her consulting firm, MP Strategies LLC, in 2018. The report noted that the income was for "personal services" his wife performed for entities not regulated by EPA.

Her consulting work generated controversy after Pruitt allegedly tasked EPA aides with finding employment for her.

The former EPA chief also reported that he owed substantial legal fees this year. He listed liabilities of $115,000 to $300,000 spread across law firms Crowe & Dunlevy and Riggs, Abney, Neal, Turpen, Orbison & Lewis.

Pruitt also reported being liable for between $15,000 and $50,000 for a Chase credit card. He indicated later in the report that the credit card has been paid off.

In addition, Pruitt reported a mortgage on a personal residence ranging from $500,000 to $1 million. Overall, Pruitt listed liabilities worth between $630,000 and $1.35 million on his 2018 report.

The former administrator also included his assets on his termination report. He reported his holdings were worth between $459,000 and $1.16 million in 2018, which included several investment funds and an Oklahoma public employee retirement plan for elected officials. Before coming to EPA in 2017, Pruitt was Oklahoma attorney general.

Pruitt’s termination report was expected to shed some light on his legal defense fund, which garnered scrutiny after he acknowledged its existence in a Senate hearing this May. Since the fund was not active until 2018, its donations would be disclosed as gifts on Pruitt’s last public financial disclosure report as long as the donors gave to the fund before Pruitt left EPA.

Cleta Mitchell, a partner at Foley & Lardner LLP and the trustee of Pruitt’s legal defense fund, initially began discussions late last year with the Office of Government Ethics to set up the fund, according to records obtained by the Campaign Legal Center under the Freedom of Information Act and shared with E&E News (Greenwire, Oct. 4).

Those discussions would pick up again in April, with Mitchell asking what was and wasn’t allowed with Pruitt’s fund, as well as in July after Pruitt resigned from EPA. Mitchell was told that Pruitt would have to disclose the donors to his fund on his financial disclosure report.

"In other words, any donations to the fund totaling more than $390 that were donated while he was an employee must be reported," she was advised, according to OGE notes of one call with the lawyer.

IRS records also show Mitchell established a 527 group, a political group free of taxes that can raise unlimited funds, called the "Scott Pruitt Legal Expenses Trust." Disclosures of that group’s donors and expenditures have not yet been posted on the IRS website.

Pruitt set up the fund after being swamped with investigations into allegations of misuse of his public office.

The EPA inspector general closed at least two of those reviews — one dealing with his rent of a condo tied to a lobbyist with business before the agency, the other focused on him having EPA subordinates perform his personal errands — saying their findings were "inconclusive" since Pruitt never sat for an interview with investigators. But other IG reviews related to Pruitt remain ongoing, including audits into his travel, use of a special hiring authority, and handling of emails and text messages.

Pruitt, while EPA administrator, also had to contend with an Oklahoma bar complaint, which has been dismissed. Mitchell also has suggested there was another bar complaint against Pruitt, telling E&E News in an email earlier this year that "the bar complaint(s) were essentially the same, indistinguishable, were merged and all have been reviewed and dismissed."

Mitchell did not respond to questions for this story.

Pruitt reported hefty legal fees on his 2017 financial disclosure report. He said during that calendar year, he was liable for $115,000 to $300,000 for legal expenses (E&E News PM, Sept. 12).

He also disclosed on that report business income of $15,000 to $50,000 earned by his wife under her consulting firm.