U.S. EPA hired Republican campaign consultants to help produce a report touting Administrator Scott Pruitt's accomplishments.
Go BIG Media Inc. signed a contract with the federal agency last month worth up to $6,500, according to federal records. Under the contract, the firm was to help with "design, graphics, production and edits of the EPA end of year report."
It was Go BIG Media's first federal government contract.
On Monday, EPA released the "Year In Review" report, which highlighted Pruitt's actions in "2017-2018." It emphasized the EPA chief's moves to roll back several major regulations, which have won praise from industry but frustrated environmental groups (E&E News PM, March 5).
The report has several statistics on Pruitt's work, including 22 deregulatory actions that the agency argues will lead to more than $1 billion in cost savings. It also includes several pages of "Media Highlights" — excerpts of news interviews and articles, including the EPA chief's No. 5 spot on GQ's "50 Most Powerful People in Trump's Washington." And it includes quotes from newsmakers praising Pruitt and the agency under "WHAT THEY'RE SAYING."
In its 37 pages, the report mentions Pruitt more than 200 times.
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said that Go BIG Media was the cheaper vendor to help with the EPA report but that in the end, the document was completed within the agency.
"We had two options: One vendor was $29,140 and the other was $6,500, but ultimately this document was made in-house," Wilcox said.
The EPA spokesman compared the agency's use of a contractor for Pruitt's report to the "What's Upstream" effort, a billboard advertising campaign funded with EPA grant money under the Obama administration that targeted farmers and sparked a Republican backlash.
In a report released last April, the EPA inspector general cleared the agency of violating any lobbying prohibitions with the campaign run by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and its public relations firm, Strategies 360. One of the firm's co-founders, Ron Dotzauer, has run Democratic political campaigns.
"This pales in comparison to the previous administration that paid $570,000 to a Democratic campaign manager's PR firm to run EPA's What's Upstream campaign," Wilcox said.
Pruitt, formerly Oklahoma's attorney general before coming to EPA, is thought to have political ambitions outside the agency. Observers expect the EPA chief will run again for a statewide office back home once he leaves the federal government.
Go BIG Media was founded in 2015 by veteran GOP operative Phillip Stutts, who has worked on presidential and congressional campaigns.
He served as a political appointee at the Department of Education during the George W. Bush administration. Stutts also has ties to the Trump administration, helping with the contentious nomination of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
His website says he's worked on campaigns with "billions of dollars in political ad spend" and contributed to "over 1,000 election victories, including hundreds of US House campaigns, dozens of US Senate campaigns and even three Presidential victories."
The site also says he is "one of the masterminds behind the curtain of political marketing," having been lauded as a "marketing genius" by Fox Business and "the political guru" by ESPN. Stutts also sings the virtues of using campaign-style tactics — including "going negative" — in other fields, such as business and nonprofit groups.
He is a frequent guest commentator on cable news shows and is currently promoting a new book — "Fire Them Now" — warning of "lies" told by digital marketers.
Go BIG Media profiles its campaign work on its website, including advertisements on behalf of GOP political groups like the Senate Leadership Fund and the National Republican Senatorial Committee attacking Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and bolstering GOP candidates like former Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.
Federal Election Commission records show that in the 2018 election cycle, the firm has been paid for services such as "online advertising" and "media consulting" by more than a dozen Republican campaigns.
Contracting records show that funds for EPA's contract with Go BIG Media haven't been obligated. But Elliot Fuchs, financial controller for Go BIG Media, told E&E News that his firm was paid $6,500 by EPA for its work, identified as the agreement's "ceiling" in the records. He said Peter Graves was the firm's lead employee on the EPA project and would know more about what the job entailed.
Graves joined the firm last year as its president of political and media strategies. He worked at the Republican National Committee during the last two election cycles and has also been political director and executive director of the Washington State Republican Party.
His Twitter account quips that he is "occasionally a propagandist."
Neither Stutts nor Graves returned messages from E&E News asking for comment for this story.
Contracting records indicate and Fuchs confirmed that the agreement with EPA was Go BIG Media's first federal government contract.
Go BIG Media's performance period for its contract with EPA ran from Feb. 2 to Feb. 9, the records show. The administrator's office provided the agreement's funding.
The contract was competed under simplified acquisition procedures, or SAP, which are used by agencies to move quickly to make smaller purchases. There were two offers received for the contract.
Wilcox didn't name the other vendor that made the pricier bid for the contract.
EPA has contracted with another Republican consulting firm during Pruitt's tenure at the agency.
Definers Corp., a Republican-run public affairs firm, signed a $120,000 contract with EPA in December last year to provide media clipping services. But soon after the firm signed the agreement, it attracted scrutiny from Democrats and environmental groups.
The contract ended up being canceled, and Definers decided to no longer do business with the federal government (Greenwire, Dec. 19, 2017).
Asked whether he worried about a similar backlash, Fuchs with Go BIG Media said he was not.
"No," Fuchs said. "The work's done, and we got paid pretty quickly."
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