Group files ethics complaint over Pruitt’s legal defense fund

Group files ethics complaint over Pruitt’s legal defense fund
© Greg Nash

An environmental organization is accusing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittSierra Club sues EPA over claim that climate change 'is 50 to 75 years out' EPA on 'forever chemicals': Let them drink polluted water EPA moving ahead with science transparency rule by 'early next year' MORE of violating federal ethics standards with his legal defense fund.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), whose members include federal employees in environmental positions, filed a complaint Wednesday over the fund with the Office of Government Ethics.

The group alleges that Pruitt’s fund, developed to help him pay for legal representation through numerous ethics and spending scandals, violates rules against accepting gifts from parties a federal employee regulates, engaging in action that could result in “losing complete independence or impartiality of action” or the appearance thereof, and may even violate criminal law related to taking gifts.

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“Scott Pruitt has a Midas touch for spawning scandal and his new tip jar suggests he does not know how to stop,” Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, said in a statement. “Allowing this Pruitt slush fund signals that the entire Trump cabinet can do the same thing, making our Capitol a far more ethically swampy place than it has ever been.”

Pruitt first disclosed the defense fund earlier this month in testimony to a Senate committee, though the New York Times reported previously that his allies were working to establish it.

Pruitt said he won’t “solicit donations” to the fund, it wouldn’t accept donations from lobbyists or corporations with business before the EPA and it would follow OGE standards for donation disclosure and other matters.

Democratic lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have demanded more detailed information about the fund, such as how it will screen donations for potential conflicts of interest and how it will disclose donors.