Before Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt rented a room from a top DC energy lobbyist, that lobbyist and his wife funded Pruitt’s efforts to climb the political ladder in his home state of Oklahoma.
Campaign finance records in the state show that Steven and Vicki Hart, the power couple who last year rented Pruitt a room in their Capitol Hill home for $50 per night, began donating to Pruitt’s campaigns for Oklahoma attorney general in 2010. Steven Hart even hosted a fundraiser for Pruitt’s reelection effort.
The cascading controversy over Pruitt’s living arrangements has roiled his standing in the administration. The New York Times reported on Monday that a client of Hart’s firm, Williams & Jensen, received EPA approval for an oil pipeline project while Pruitt rented a room in Hart’s home. Also on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the White House was investigating Pruitt’s conduct. And on Tuesday, The Washington Post revealed that a top Pruitt aide who oversaw a pair of allied political groups had been tasked with finding living arrangements for the administrator in Washington.
But one detail has remained murky: how, and when, the relationship between Pruitt and the Harts began. A Daily Beast review of public records reveals that that relationship goes back years, and has resulted in significant financial upside for Pruitt’s political operation.
The Harts’ first apparent contribution to Pruitt was a $500 donation in October of 2010, about two weeks before Pruitt was first elected attorney general. They donated $1,000 the following year, and $250 the year after. When Pruitt ran for reelection in 2014, Steven Hart footed the bill for a fundraising reception benefitting his campaign. After he was reelected, Pruitt set up a federal political committee that made contributions to allied Republicans. Hart donated to that group in 2015.
A spokesman for the EPA declined to comment on the donations.
Hart wasn’t the only Williams & Jensen executive to give to Pruitt. George Baker and Jack McMackin, both principals at the firm, donated to Pruitt’s federal group, Oklahoma Strong Leadership PAC, on the same day as Hart. Baker had also contributed to Pruitt’s AG campaign in 2011 and 2012.
All of those donations help illustrate how Pruitt ended up in the Harts’ DC rowhouse. As The Daily Beast reported on Monday, the house was a frequent venue for Republican fundraising events. A member of Congress told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that it is affectionately known on the Hill as “the Williams & Jensen condo.”
And the firm has fairly extensive ties to Oklahoma. Hart himself is a Sooner. The firm’s late co-founder, J.D. Williams, also hailed from the state. Mike Hunter, the current Oklahoma Attorney General and a former top Pruitt aide, previously served as a Williams & Jensen attorney in the firm’s Washington D.C. office.
Some of William & Jensen’s clients reflect that history: since 2000, for instance, the firm has represented OGE Energy Corp., the Oklahoma City-based company whose subsidiaries include Oklahoma Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility. Among the government entities the firm has lobbied on OGE’s behalf is Pruitt’s EPA.
The firm’s ties to the state have turned “the Williams & Jensen condo” into a go-to fundraising destination for members of the Oklahoma delegation in particular, a former Hill staffer told The Daily Beast. And while Hart’s connections to Pruitt may be rooted in that Oklahoma bind, they also were forged during the early days of the Trump administration. Hart helped run the Trump transition team’s labor department portfolio at the same time Pruitt was being tapped to take over the EPA.
The revelation of the ties between the two men have now created problems for both. Hart has largely ducked media requests since confirming Pruitt had rented his town house on the Hill. And he did not return a request for comment for this article. Pruitt, meanwhile, has seen calls for his resignation escalate in recent days, with a House Republican—Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL)—joining the chorus on Tuesday.
The White House on Tuesday morning let out word that the president was standing by his beleaguered EPA chief amid the numerous scandals. But on Tuesday afternoon, Trump seemed almost non-committal when discussing Pruitt’s future.
“I hope he’s going to be great,” Trump said when asked about Pruitt during a meeting with leaders of the Baltic states.