The lobbyist-owned townhouse that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt rented for relatively small nightly sums also served as a hub for Republican lawmakers hoping to raise money for their congressional campaigns.
A review of fundraising invitations reveals that at least three members of Congress had fundraisers at the now-controversial Capital Hill brownstone during the same period of time that Pruitt was living there. Several of those fundraisers took place on dates when Pruitt was in Washington, D.C., according to a cross-reference of the invitations and Pruitt’s schedule.
The EPA said that Pruitt wasn’t invited to and didn’t attend any of the events. And even if he were to have attended, ethics laws do not prohibit a cabinet secretary from going to a political event in his or her personal time.
While Pruitt wasn’t in town for all of the events, the cross-pollination of Pruitt’s lobbyist-owned accommodations and the apparently common fundraising activity raises another round of questions over how the EPA chief conducted himself upon arriving in Washington.
“Nothing says ‘the swamp’ like corporate lobbyists holding high-dollar fundraisers in a luxury Capitol Hill condo,” said Brendan Fischer, the director of federal reform programs at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit ethics group. “The fact that a senior member of the administration is staying in a lobbyist’s fundraiser den when he isn’t flying first class on the taxpayer dime might say something about President Trump’s commitment to his ‘Drain the Swamp’ pledge.”
The townhouse at 223 C Street, NE, is owned by Vicki Hart and her husband J. Steven Hart, who chairs one of D.C.’s major lobbying firms and represents, among other clients, major energy companies. According to ABC News, Pruitt lived at the address during the spring and early summer of 2017, paying a rate of $50-a-night—well below a standard fare for someone renting out prime real estate on the Hill.
The EPA says the relationship was entirely above board. A spokesperson for the agency provided a memo from its chief ethics attorney, who reviewed the arrangement retroactively and found that it fully complied with relevant laws and regulations. But the White House said on Monday that it was conducting its own review of the practice to ensure it was above board, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
During those months that Pruitt stayed in the house—from March through July, according to records reported by Bloomberg—political action committees associated with several members of Congress held fundraisers at 223 C Street, NE as well. They include Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), who hosted, what appears to be, monthly luncheons. A request for comment made to Crapo’s Freedom Fund was not returned. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) held a breakfast fundraiser at the townhouse on March 9, 2017. A treasurer for “Huizenga for Congress” did not return a request for comment. And Save America PAC, the political action committee for Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), also held an event at the house in mid-July, according a source familiar with the event. A request for comment from that PAC was similarly not returned.
A request for comment made to Steven Hart’s office was not returned.
Pruitt was in Washington, D.C., on the same day of at least three of the Crapo fundraisers (he was in Oklahoma for a fourth). He was in Little Rock, Arkansas, on the date of the Risch fundraiser and in Houston during the Huizenga event (his publicly released schedule does not go back that far). Though the events took place at his residence, most of them were in the middle of the day which would have made it difficult for Pruitt to have attended.
Pruitt was out of town for some of the events, and might not have even known they were taking place. But Fischer insists that that’s almost beside the point.
“Even if that is true,” he said, “the fact that fundraisers were a common occurrence is a reminder that Pruitt was getting a sweet deal on a luxury condo from a couple whose job is influence-peddling.”