It may seem ridiculous when looking at the crew now filling the administrative offices of the executive branch, but government employees are not supposed to be partisan. Under the Hatch Act, passed way back in 1939, only the president, vice president, and a handful of others in the executive branch are free to be involved in partisan activities. After revisions (including one signed by Barack Obama), other employees are allowed to run for office and work on campaigns, but they can not engage in political activity with people who have business with their agency, and they expressly can not solicit political contributions using their official titles and positions. Which makes this more than a little problematic:
Next Friday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt — former Oklahoma Attorney General — will give the keynote address at the Oklahoma Republican Party’s annual gala.
Not only is Pruitt addressing the fundraising event, he’s a headliner. He appears on the advertising material intended to get people to buy into the $100 dinner—or the much more expensive sponsorships.
In a flyer advertising the event, the Oklahoma GOP touts Pruitt’s role as EPA administrator, highlighting steps he has taken since February to roll back environmental regulations.
“You do not want to miss Pruitt at this year’s OKGOP Gala, as he discusses his plans to slash regulations, bring back jobs to Oklahoma, and decrease the size of the EPA,” the flyer reads.
This isn’t Scott Pruitt giving his political philosophy. It’s an evening with the EPA director to hear how he’s ripping up the agency. Both Pruitt and the Oklahoma GOP seem to be specifically working to violate every last provision of the law.
Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has filed a complaint.
“The unmistakable impression one receives from the May 5 invitation is that by purchasing a ticket or agreeing to sponsor the OKGOP Gala, the attendee will have special access to federal employee discussing official actions already taken, and to be taken in the future,” Whitehouse writes in his complaint. “This is clearly impermissible political activity under the Hatch Act.”
The Hatch Act is often discussed, but rarely actually invoked. However, what’s happening in this case seems designed to flaunt the law so openly that Hatch might as well be retired.
For Pruitt this is nothing new. His role as attorney general blurred into both working for the party and for the people he was supposed to regulate. He was so in the pocket of oil and gas companies as AG that he literally passed off their letters as his own.
Pruitt has worked extremely closely with oil and gas companies in opposing the plan. In one case, a New York Times investigation revealed that Pruitt sent an official letter to the EPA, bearing his signature and letterhead, that had been almost completely written by lawyers at Devon Energy, a major oil and gas company. It was delivered to Pruitt’s office by Devon’s chief lobbyist.
Pruitt fits perfectly in a regime that doesn’t recognize boundaries between governing, political activity, lobbying, and simply stuffing their own pockets.