Firm discloses more EPA lobbying by advocate with ties to Pruitt condo rental

Firm discloses more EPA lobbying by advocate with ties to Pruitt condo rental
© Greg Nash

A lobbyist whose wife rented a condo to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas MORE lobbied the agency for three clients last year, apparently contradicting his claim that he hadn’t represented clients at the EPA during the Trump administration, according to new disclosure forms filed by his former employer.

J. Steven Hart, who formerly served as the chairman of law and lobbying firm Williams & Jensen, advocated at the EPA for Coca-Cola, the Financial Oversight and Management Control Board of Puerto Rico and Smithfield Foods. 

The first two clients have not been previously reported, and the new forms suggest that there was more work done on behalf of Smithfield Foods than was previously known. 

“I do not lobby the EPA. I have had no lobbying contact with the EPA in 2017 or 2018,” Hart told E&E News in March.

Hart stepped down in April, primarily because of the fallout from the apartment rental to Pruitt. His departure from the firm came just hours before routine lobbying disclosures mentioned that he had contacted the EPA on behalf of Smithfield Foods, which has been a client of Williams & Jensen since 2001. 

Williams & Jensen then hired outside counsel, Jan Baran at Wiley Rein, to comb through its disclosure filings from 2017 and 2018, in addition to Hart's calendar and communications, to make sure the forms accurately reflected the scope of Hart’s work for clients. 

After that review, Baran advised Williams & Jensen to file a total of 14 amendments to Hart’s forms spanning all of last year and the first three months of 2018, according to disclosures sent to the Senate on Friday.

Lobbyists submit reports on their work and how much they earn from clients every three months.  

Amendments were made to a total of seven of Hart’s clients overall. 

Forms for clients United Airlines, the American Council of Life Insurers, and Stanley Black & Decker are being updated to reflect Hart lobbying the White House. Documents for Hydromine Inc., an energy development company, have had other executive branch agencies added.

“We pride ourselves on our reputation for exceptional client service and our commitment to operating under the highest ethical standards, so we take our obligations under the Lobbying Disclosure Act very seriously,” the firm said in an emailed statement on Friday.

“[T]oday the firm filed amendments to several disclosure reports that include information that was not previously disclosed to our firm and therefore not included in the original filings. No Williams & Jensen client is in any way responsible for the incompleteness of our original filings,” the statement continued. 

Hart did not respond to a request for comment.

Filing amendments to lobbying disclosures is relatively commonplace, particularly done when the amount a client has paid a firm is incorrect or when forms miss details. 

On the new form for Coca-Cola, Hart and other lobbyists at the firm disclose lobbying the EPA in 2017 on “environmental issues impacting the beverage industry; clean water supply and water conservation.” 

The EPA, in a statement to The Hill, said Williams & Jensen had made an error by including Coca-Cola in the amended lobbying reports.

“This meeting involving Coca-Cola and their clean water steward did not occur," said EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox. "The request was submitted and it went unfilled.”

Disclosure forms often only include the issues worked on and generally do not reference meetings or meeting requests. A meeting at the EPA is not mentioned on the amended Coca-Cola form, nor is a request for a meeting. Lobbying laws are written so that requesting a meeting, or directing someone to request a meeting, could trigger registration.

Hart and others also worked on “general market access issues in foreign countries; Commerce 232 investigations, including re: aluminum” at the EPA, the Commerce Department and other agencies for the soda-maker. Last year, he also discussed “[e]nvironmental issues impacting the beverage industry, including hydroflourocarbon replacement; commodity pricing legislation” on Capitol Hill and at the EPA on Coca-Cola's behalf.

Another amendment states that, in the fourth quarter of 2017, Hart lobbied the EPA about “water quality and infrastructure in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria” on behalf of the Financial Oversight and Management Control Board of Puerto Rico, according to one new amendment. The firm said that Hart was "encouraging them to get as much potable water to Puerto Rico as possible" following the major storm that devastated the island territory last year.

Moreover, amendments to Williams & Jensen’s disclosure forms for Smithfield Foods include almost an entire year of advocacy before the EPA.

Multiple new amendments for the company say that Hart and another lobbyist worked “at the request of an official of the Smithfield Foundation who is also a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, support for Chesapeake Bay programs and candidates for Science Advisory Board or other positions” during 2017.

In April, both Hart and the company had pushed back on the disclosures from the first three months of 2018, when it was first revealed Hart had lobbied the EPA on behalf of Smithfield Foods. They claimed the forms inaccurately described the work. 

However, Hart set up and attended a meeting between Pruitt and former Smithfield executive Dennis Treacy, who is on the board’s charitable arm and maintains a corporate email address. 

“I assisted a friend who served on the Chesapeake Bay Commission, and this is inaccurately being tied to Smithfield Foods,” Hart said through a spokesman in April, in reference to Treacy. “I was not paid for this assistance and any suggestion that I lobbied for Smithfield Foods is inaccurate.”

The Chesapeake Bay Commission is an intergovernmental body made up of elected officials, state Cabinet members and three "citizen representatives" that advise on legislative efforts related to environmental restoration policies in the Chesapeake Bay area. 

Treacy is listed on the commission's website as a Virginia citizen representative. 

In April, Smithfield said it believed that the EPA work being included on lobbying forms was a mistake, and said in a statement that the lobbying did not occur “at the direction of or on behalf of Smithfield Foods.” 

Earlier this year, Pruitt also said that Hart did not lobby before the EPA.

“Mr. Hart,” Pruitt said during a Fox News interview, “has no clients who have business before this agency.” 

Williams & Jensen was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year when reports surfaced that Pruitt had rented a Capitol Hill condo co-owned by Hart’s wife, health-care lobbyist Vicki Hart, for some of 2017. 

Pruitt paid $50 a night for the condo when he was in town, and paid only for the nights he slept there. The EPA chief rented from the Harts for about six months, paying a total $6,100 for the space. His daughter also lived there during her stint as a White House intern during the summer.

The arrangement has raised questions about whether the generous rental agreement broke ethics laws that prohibit lobbyists from giving gifts to public officials. 

Steve Hart and Pruitt are longtime friends from Oklahoma, where Pruitt previously served as attorney general. 

Hart stepped down from Williams & Jensen on April 20, saying that “fake news” spurred his earlier-than-anticipated exit from the firm.

“Considering the last couple of weeks, I think it is easier on my family and the firm to expedite my departure,” Hart wrote to family and friends in April. 

He thanked those who had sent him and his wife “notes and flowers” during the Pruitt fallout. 

“[W]e learned a new and personal meaning of, ‘Fake News’ and ‘Real Friends.’ They say if you need a friend in Washington, get a dog,” he continued. “We now know that adage is not always accurate.” 

“As you know, these days I am no more an energy lobbyist than I am an astronaut. But, why let the facts get in the way of a good story,” he said.