Dems ask EPA to terminate contract with GOP publicity firm

Dems ask EPA to terminate contract with GOP publicity firm
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Two Senate Democrats want the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to terminate immediately a contract it recently signed with a public affairs firm tied to numerous Republican causes.

The $120,000, no-bid contract with Definers Public Affairs is reportedly for “news analysis” services, such as monitoring media stories about the EPA.

But Sens. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehousePlastics industry lashes out at 'regressive' Democratic tax plan Democrats draw red lines in spending fight What Republicans should demand in exchange for raising the debt ceiling MORE (D-R.I.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden, Harris push big lie about Border Patrol Two 'View' hosts test positive for coronavirus ahead of Harris interview Rep. Karen Bass to run for mayor of Los Angeles: report MORE (D-Calif.) wrote in a Tuesday letter to EPA head Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA bans use of pesticide linked to developmental problems in children Science matters: Thankfully, EPA leadership once again agrees Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE that the contract, and Definers’s close ties to GOP advocacy and opposition research, “presents an appearance of impropriety to which you as administrator should never be a party.”

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EPA and Definers have consistently defended the contract since Mother Jones first wrote about it last week, saying it was reached in accordance with law and it is merely for media monitoring. 

Definers, which has served numerous Republican clients, shares many features with America Rising PAC, America Rising Squared and Need to Know Network, such as offices and executives.

America Rising PAC says it was founded “for the sole purpose of exposing the truth about Democrats through video tracking, research and communications.”

On Saturday, The New York Times reported that a Definers Public Affairs vice president has been investigating EPA employees critical of Pruitt and President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE's agenda.

Whitehouse and Harris accused the various GOP organizations of receiving significant funding from interests the EPA regulates, such as the energy industry.

America Rising Squared ran a campaign supporting Pruitt’s confirmation as EPA administrator, while Need to Know Network has published positive coverage of his work.

Whitehouse and Harris asked Pruitt to answer numerous questions about the Definers contract and provide various documents regarding it by Thursday.

The senators are not the only ones objecting to the Definers contract.

Public Citizen, on behalf of two liberal public relations firms, filed a formal protest of the contract with the Government Accountability Office, arguing that it does not comply with federal contracting rules.

“In the best-case scenario, the contract was outrageously issued on a sole-source basis for work that dozens of firms could perform, to a partisan firm that just so happens to be investigating EPA employees for opposition to President Donald Trump’s anti-science agenda,” Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said in a statement.

“In the worst-case scenario, something far more nefarious is going on.”

And on Monday, the Environmental Working Group and American Oversight asked the EPA’s Office of Inspector General to investigate the contract.