Energy companies and their executives have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into political action committees run by or supporting President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. And now Pruitt is getting extra help from a new nonprofit that doesn’t have to disclose its donors.
Pruitt has become a favorite of conservatives as well as oil and coal companies since he has helped lead the legal fight against President Barack Obama’s environmental and climate change agenda — policies the White House’s opponents see as an overreach of federal power and a threat to fossil fuels.
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The new group, Protecting America Now, warns that Pruitt’s confirmation “is not a certainty” and says that millions of dollars are needed for advertising and social media campaigns to counter anti-Pruitt campaigning from “anti-business, environmental extremists,” according to a flier obtained by POLITICO.
The flier assures donors that PAN’s 501(c)(4) status means individual and corporate donors can remain anonymous, and asks for contributions ranging from $25,000 to $500,000. Nonprofits registered as 501(c)(4)’s are not supposed to spend more than half their money on political activities.
It is unclear precisely who is behind the campaign, but PAN’s activities come on the heels of separate efforts by oil, coal and other energy interests to funnel money into pro-Pruitt PACs in recent years. Legally, one of those PACs could continue to raise money even after Pruitt joins Trump’s Cabinet.
PAN’s fundraising is being coordinated through Kate Doner, an Austin-based fundraiser who has done PAC and consulting work for Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Doner was unavailable by phone and did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
PAN’s website — which is only partially finished — appears to have been registered by Sagac Public Affairs, an Oklahoma City shop whose clients include a number of Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), as well as several fossil fuel companies and trade groups. The site was taken down after POLITICO first ran its story, but a screenshot is available here.
Meanwhile, several environmental groups are already running anti-Pruitt campaigns. An Environmental Defense Fund Action project has put six figures into an online and television ad campaign, and the Sierra Club in December dropped five figures on an online campaign targeting moderate senators from both parties.
This isn’t the first organized effort to boost Pruitt’s political fortunes.
Two PACs — formed in 2015, following Pruitt’s unopposed 2014 reelection — have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past two years, and appear aimed at helping him seek a federal office, potentially as a successor to Inhofe, should the senator decide not run again in 2020 when he will turn 86.
As the oil state’s attorney general, Pruitt has been one of the fossil fuel industry’s staunchest allies, frequently leading or joining legal challenges to Obama administration rules that the energy industries complained are curbing their business.
Liberty 2.0, a super PAC launched in 2015 by Pruitt supporters, raised more than $168,000 from energy interests, more than a third of its $450,000 fundraising haul so far, according to a POLITICO review of Federal Election Commission records.
A separate federal leadership PAC run by Pruitt, Oklahoma Strong Leadership, raised $72,000 from energy interests out of the $391,000 it’s raised since it was founded in 2015, just weeks before the super PAC was set up.
The super PAC, which is able to raise and spend unlimited funds, could continue to raise funds even if Pruitt becomes EPA administrator since Pruitt, by law, is forbidden from coordinating with the committee. In that event, Pruitt would be one of the first Cabinet members to be connected to a super PAC, and it raises the possibility that the energy interests that have provided a major portion of its funding so far could continue to do so even while he is in charge of regulating their industries.
E&E News reported on the pro-Pruitt super PAC earlier Friday. Charles Spies, Liberty 2.0’s attorney, told the publication that the PAC is “assessing plans to continue to fully comply with the law and the highest ethical standards.”
Pruitt’s leadership PAC and the pro-Pruitt super PAC share key personnel.
FEC records show that several of the same people listed as paid consultants for both entities, many of whom worked on his 2014 reelection campaign, including Millan Hupp, who was described by the Tulsa World in September as “Team Pruitt Operations Director.” Also on the payrolls are Sydney Hupp, a former intern on Pruitt’s 2014 reelection campaign; Crystal Coon, Pruitt’s former chief of staff as attorney general; and Karl Wert, who is listed as an administrative assistant for both PACs.
The Liberty 2.0 super PAC got $50,000 from Murray Energy, a major coal company and foe of Obama administration regulations, in August, just weeks before the oral arguments over EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which both Murray and Pruitt have challenged in court. Another $50,000 contribution a year prior came from Lucas Oil Products, which makes oil supplements and lubricants.
Other major contributions include $25,000 from JMA Energy President Jeffrey McDougall, $15,000 from Harold Hamm’s Continental Resources, and $10,000 from American Energy Partners. Unlike candidate’s campaigns, super PACs can receive money directly from corporations.
Liberty 2.0’s contributions to other committees has so far been relatively small — $50,000 to the Senate Leadership Fund, a group supporting GOP Senate candidates, and $10,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association. It has also spent more than $275,000 on various other expenses, including travel, financial consulting, legal services and rent.
The data covers through Nov. 28, the latest date for which the FEC has data. Pruitt was nominated by Trump on Dec. 7.
Like lawmakers who have one, Pruitt has used his leadership PAC, Oklahoma Strong Leadership, to funnel money to favored candidates, including Inhofe, the former chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, to whom Pruitt sent $1,000 last January. Inhofe is a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over EPA and will vote on Pruitt’s nomination.
It sent $2,700 to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign in September 2015. It also gave money to Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who lost her reelection campaign, as well as Patrick Morrisey, the West Virginia attorney general who may challenge Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in 2018. More money went to state-level candidates and some state GOP groups.
The PAC also spent $10 on a registration fee paid to Americans For Prosperity, the Koch Brothers-connected conservative group. The filing does not provide any detail on what the fee covered.
The PACs’ fundraising is on top of direct contributions to Pruitt’s attorney general campaigns. His 2014 reelection raised more than $114,000 from energy interests, 14 percent of his total haul that year.