Allies of U.S. EPA nominee Scott Pruitt are going underground amid questions over the Oklahoma attorney general's ties to the energy industry.
But at least one person involved in a new fundraising operation worked for political action committees that Pruitt's supporters are now attempting to close.
Pruitt (R) has been dogged by questions over his campaign fundraising. As Oklahoma attorney general, he accepted money from energy interests and filed several high-profile lawsuits challenging EPA rules on carbon emissions, methane and smog.
Republicans contend Pruitt is in favor of reining in an agency that has exceeded its legal purview. Democrats say his fundraising calls into question his ability to serve as EPA administrator. They worry that Pruitt will favor industry interests over public health and the environment.
In an apparent attempt to ease some of those concerns, a lawyer for two pro-Pruitt PACs announced last week the committees would close sometime this month. Both had raised money from energy interests.
Announcement of their closure followed publication of an E&E News story, which reported that one of the groups, a super PAC, could continue raising money if Pruitt is confirmed as EPA administrator (Climatewire, Jan. 6).
"The PACs' missions are no longer relevant, and we don't want them to be a distraction during the confirmation hearings," the PACs' legal counsel, Charles Spies, told E&E News.
Neither committee had posted termination filings with the Federal Election Commission as of last night. Pruitt's confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled for Wednesday.
Even if they do close, some of Pruitt's supporters appear ready to pick up where his PACs left off. The key distinction: This time, they plan to raise money in secret.
The new pro-Pruitt group is called Protecting America Now. In a flier first obtained by Politico, the group said it was raising money to bolster Pruitt's confirmation prospects. It also noted an added benefit. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, Protecting America Now is not required to disclose its donors publicly.
"EPA can do better, and will do better if Scott Pruitt is confirmed as EPA administrator by the U.S. Senate," the flier said. It went on to warn, "Anti-business, environmental extremists have mobilized to spend millions opposing Pruitt's appointment because they see it as their best, most immediate chance to derail a Trump appointment."
The flier lists Kate Doner, an Austin, Texas-based fundraiser, as the group's contact. Doner, president of Doner Fundraising, has worked for the Trusted Leadership PAC, a committee that supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R).
She has also worked for one of Pruitt's PACs. Liberty 2.0, a super PAC associated with the Oklahoma attorney general, paid Doner Fundraising $24,675, according to FollowTheMoney.org.
Doner did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.
Dems call for ethics inquiry
Pruitt's fundraising has emerged as an early point of contention in his confirmation proceedings. The Sierra Club has announced a five-figure ad campaign targeting senators to oppose Pruitt's nomination.
Senate Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee sent letters yesterday to the Office of Government Ethics and EPA's ethics officer, inquiring if Pruitt is required to disclose contributions from energy interests made to yet another campaign group.
That committee, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, is a public policy arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which has organized challenges to several EPA rules.
Pruitt resigned as the group's chairman in December. As a 501(c)(4) organization, it also is not required to disclose its donors.
"During his tenure as Attorney General of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt has blurred the distinction between official and political actions, often at the behest of corporations he will regulate if confirmed to lead EPA," the senators wrote. "While the disclosures Mr. Pruitt made to OGE (Office of Government Ethics) may be sufficient to ascertain his personal financial conflicts of interest, they do not document conflicts he may have as a result of political activities."
Pruitt's backers sought to flip the switch on the Oklahoman's critics, noting that they have raised money from environmental groups.
"This group of Democratic senators are puppets of the environmentalist left, and their strings have been activated to oppose Scott Pruitt's EPA reform efforts," Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for America Rising Squared, the public policy arm of the conservative PAC America Rising.
Liberty 2.0, the pro-Pruitt super PAC, has raised roughly $194,000 from energy interests, according to an E&E News review of FEC filings. A second PAC supporting Pruitt, Oklahoma Strong Leadership, has raised contributions from a series of oil and coal executives and industry lobbyists.
Reporter Mike Soraghan contributed.
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