(Bloomberg) -- Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, obtained highly prized tickets to the Rose Bowl with the help of the head of a firm doing public affairs work for energy companies -- and a top congressional Democrat wants to know the details.
Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to Renzi Stone, founder of public relations firm Saxum, asking for documents on how he helped Pruitt obtain the tickets.
The Oklahoma City-based company has represented Plains All American Pipeline LP, which has a petition pending before the EPA to discharge hydrostatic test water from a pipeline in Corpus Christi, Texas, Cummings said.
The EPA said Pruitt paid face value for the tickets and accused Cummings of distorting the facts.
Pruitt has won support from conservatives for his deregulatory zeal but has also become a lightning rod of controversy after revelations that he enlisted aides on multiple occasions to help his wife attempt to obtain a Chick-fil-A Inc. chicken sandwich franchise or get other work. He’s also drawn scrutiny for his use of first-class air travel, a $50-a-night condo rental from a lobbyist, and expensive round-the-clock security detail.
President Donald Trump said Friday that Pruitt’s done “a fantastic job” but that he’s unhappy about some of the EPA administrator’s actions, amid numerous ethics probes that have cast doubt on Pruitt’s continued tenure at the agency.
“I’m not happy about certain things. I’ll be honest,” Trump told reporters.
Millan Hupp, Pruitt’s former director of scheduling and advance, told Cummings’s committee in May that Stone provided Rose Bowl tickets for Pruitt and his family, according to a statement from Cummings.
On its website, Saxum touts “a large, diversified energy practice,” aimed at helping support the marketing communications, public relations and public affairs needs of a wide range of companies. It appears not to have registered lobbyists working in Washington or Oklahoma, based on a Bloomberg review of disclosures.
Board of Regents
In addition to his work at Saxum, Stone also serves on the University of Oklahoma Board of regents, the lawmaker said. Pruitt is a former Oklahoma attorney general.
“Federal ethics rules prohibit government employees from accepting gifts, such as tickets to sporting events, unless they pay ‘market value,”’ Cummings wrote. “Moreover, a government employee may not accept a gift provided ‘because of the employee’s official position.’ ”
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox accused Cummings of “misconstruing the facts.”
“Renzi Stone, a friend of Administrator Pruitt and regent to the University of Oklahoma, simply connected Pruitt to the athletic department,” Wilcox said by email. “Pruitt purchased the tickets at face value from the OU athletic department. To report otherwise is false.”
Buying tickets at face value may have represented a significant discount to the going rate at the time, just days before the sold-out football game in Pasadena, California. The University of Georgia Bulldogs bested the Oklahoma Sooners in the traditional New Year’s Day game.
Stone cast the encounter as commonplace in a series of posts on Twitter Friday. Each year, in mid December, people call for OU bowl tickets, he said. “Scott Pruitt, my friend since 2001, asked through an aide if he could buy Rose Bowl tix,” Stone tweeted. “I made connection to OU ticket office. He bought them. That’s it.”
Stone also said the firm doesn’t do work for clients at EPA, although he acknowledged producing some videos for the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s top trade association. “In our case with API and every other client Saxum works with, lobbying EPA isn’t the type of work we do,” Stone said.
Representatives of Plains said in an emailed statement that the pipeline operator is a former client of Saxum. “Our prior association ended in November 2017 and was limited to Oklahoma-based public relations support for a pipeline construction project,” the company said.
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