The New Head of the EPA Cashed In Lobbying for Coal
On Thursday, Scott Pruitt resigned from his post as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ushering in a new era led by his deputy, Andrew Wheeler.
As of this week, EPA head Scott Pruitt faced at least 14 federal probes into his unethical behavior, and amidst the (many) scandals, politicians and citizens alike were calling for his resignation. The much-desired announcement dropped yesterday afternoon when President Trump tweeted about Pruitt’s resignation, and many rejoiced that the blatant corruption would end. However, his successor is not so promising either.
Pruitt’s deputy, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal lobbyist, who worked for the consulting arm of Faegre Baker Daniels (a group that contributed over $600,000 during the 2016 election cycle). One of Wheeler’s biggest clients was Murray Energy, the company that gave President Trump a pro-coal action plan and six pre-written executive orders to rescind energy regulations. Wheeler’s role in helping broker the meeting is clear from his messages in the thread of leaked emails between Murray Energy and high-level Energy Department officials.
In the same email thread, he also asked about a meeting with Energy Secretary Perry for another client, Energy Fuels, regarding uranium mining. Coincidentally, in May of this year, the Department of the Interior loosened environmental standards on uranium, even though it didn’t pass the DOI’s “screening tool.” This is on top of Energy Fuels’ expansion of uranium mines in Utah this February after an intense lobbying campaign.
The Bottom Line: Regulatory government agencies should not be run by people who have actively worked to undermine those regulations. This direct conflict of interest sets a precedent for special interests to infiltrate government agencies and pad the pockets of their buddies with skewed policies.
Read About Scott Pruitt’s Secret Agenda – Literally
Testimony from a former aide of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt reveals he kept a secret calendar detailing controversial meetings with special interests.
William Ruckelshaus, the United States’ first EPA administrator under President Richard Nixon, introduced the standard of publicly releasing the schedules of senior EPA officials. “Regulatory agencies need trust,” he told CNN, so the people should know who officials are meeting with.
In keeping with the practice, Scott Pruitt released his schedule online, but his former deputy chief of staff for operations has revealed that the public schedule isn’t entirely truthful. More than two dozen meetings and calls have been stricken from public record, and many of these were meetings with special interests to discuss regulations on their industries. A notable case of this involves a meeting between Pruitt and the CEO of a coal company, Joe Craft, who has worked to end Obama-era coal regulations with generous political contributions. The image below shows Pruitt’s public calendar, which has his day ending after 4:15, and his internal calendar, which reveals two meetings with Joe Craft.
Pruitt also had dinner with Cardinal Pell (as in, a Vatican Cardinal) who is a staunch climate change denier, and was charged with sexual abuse twenty days after the meeting. The June 9th meeting was taken off the record because Pruitt feared how these charges would look to the public, but internal emails show the real details of their meeting. (That the trip to Italy cost taxpayers $120,000 is a whole other issue).
This secret calendar is only one of many ethics violations. Congressmen are calling for an investigation into these actions, which would it add to the growing list of (at least 14) probes. Other investigations involve his misspending, unethical management (like using his staff to find a $200,000-a-year job for his wife), and more.
The Bottom Line: When the public doesn’t have transparency, it is impossible to hold government officials accountable, and Pruitt’s secret calendar shows a concerning disregard for these important norms.
Gov. Jerry Brown makes a Not-So-Sweet Deal with the Soda Industry
California legislators caved to pressure from the soda industry and passed a bill banning soda tax statewide.
Across the US, public health advocates are pushing for a soda tax to reduce sugar consumption and the prevalence of health issues like childhood obesity. The soda industry is fighting back by lobbying for legislation that bans the tax. Their latest battle took place in California, and yesterday, the soda industry took home a win when lawmakers passed a law prohibiting “grocery” taxes until 2031.
This is a huge blow to the public health movement. Of the eight cities nationwide that taxed soda, four of them were in California, and another four were pushing for similar legislation this year. This special interest win comes on the heels of an aggressive campaign mounted by the soda industry, namely a ballot initiative (costing them $7 million) that would make it extremely difficult for local California governments to raise taxes.
The initiative deliberately put pressure on local officials, who would have needed two-thirds support from voters to increase any taxes if it became law. Inevitably, the legislature and beverage industry reached a deal, and lawmakers passed a “compromise” bill that would more directly ban soda tax for 12 years.
Critics speculate the deal arose after an event that Gov. Jerry Brown hosted at his mansion in early June. He invited representatives of the American Beverage Association over for dinner, although both claim they did not discuss the deal.
The Bottom Line: When laws are passed under pressure from special interests, they can’t possibly represent what the people want. A 2014 poll showed that two-thirds of Californians support a soda tax, and yet, lawmakers just killed this popular initiative.
Father Starts his Own PAC to Finance Son’s Run for Congress
Personal political action committees, like those started by parents, are becoming increasingly common after Citizens United.
There are seven candidates running for Kansas’ 2nd congressional district, but only one has a parent that started a political action committee just for them.
Steven Watkins, the father of congressional candidate Steve Watkins, created Kansans Can Anything PAC and is, so far, the PACs only donor. He put $100,000 into the fund, and spent $64,000 of that on television ads supporting his son. These political contributions pile onto the $175,100 that the candidate (Steve-with-no-N) gave his own campaign.
This is far from a unique situation, however. Another candidate in Philadelphia is backed by a super PAC funded in large part by her mother. This increase of personal political action committees stems from the Citizens United ruling in 2010 which allows an unlimited amount of money to flood into campaigns through PACs. This hands the wealthy an unmitigated opportunity to out-raise and out-campaign their opponents, regardless of the candidate’s real qualifications.
The Bottom Line: Money should not be a determining factor for someone running for office, and yet the better-financed candidate wins 91% of the time.
That’s all for this week, folks. If you have a corruption story you’d like to see covered here, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org