A new legal decision from the Government Accountability Office says that former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt did not break the law by appearing in an ad for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).
GAO summed up its decision as follows:
EPA’s use of its appropriations for the then-Administrator’s interview and appearance in an NCBA video did not violate the publicity or propaganda, grassroots lobbying, or Interior anti-lobbying provisions.
Because the then-Administrator’s appearance in the video did not constitute a communication that was self-aggrandizing, purely partisan, or covert, EPA did not violate the publicity or propaganda prohibition.
Further, EPA did not violate the grassroots lobbying prohibition because the then-Administrator did not make a clear appeal to the public to contact Members of Congress in support of, or in opposition to, pending legislation, nor did EPA adopt NCBA’s materials as its own.
Lastly, EPA did not violate the Interior anti-lobbying provision because the then-Administrator’s remarks did not tend to promote support for, or opposition to, a legislative proposal.
GAO conducted its analysis of the video at the request of Congressmen Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ).
“…we are seeking a legal opinion as to whether the Administrator’s appearance in the promotional NCBA video in connection with the hyperlinked material on the NCBA website complies with the relevant statutory prohibitions on the use of appropriated funds for lobbying and publicity or propaganda purposes and the Antideficiency Act,” wrote the lawmakers in their letter with the original request.
Pruitt appeared in the video as part of a five minute interview about the agency’s proposed rule to rescind the June 29, 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. EPA said it agreed to make the then-Administrator available for the interview, but did not have “any role in designing, coordinating, producing, or distributing” the videotaped interview.
The video contained links to a “call to action” page and a “contact your elected officials” page when it was published. Some of the content on the pages included language such as “Urge Congress to Stop EPA’s Unlawful Expansion” and “Let your Congressional representatives know that they should not allow EPA and the Corps [of Engineers] to trample on your Constitutional rights” which is what raised the questions about the legality of Pruitt’s appearance in the video.