The Government Accountability Office (GAO) agreed to investigate whether or not Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt violated anti-lobbying propaganda laws.
House Democrats sent a letter to GAO in October, asking them to investigate Pruitt’s appearing in a National Cattlemen’s Beef Association video. Lawmakers said Pruitt’s appearance in the trade group’s video may violate the Antideficiency Act.
GAO on Friday told Democrats it would investigate the matter to see “whether it violated the statutory prohibitions on the use of appropriated funds for lobbying and publicity or propaganda purposes.”
At request of top House Democrats, GAO to review whether EPA Administrator violated the law by appearing in promotional video: pic.twitter.com/tyRszB9CBT
— Transportation Dems (@TransportDems) November 3, 2017
The cattleman’s association published a video online in August featuring Pruitt encouraging farmers to file comments and contact elected officials about proposed changes to the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule put in place by the Obama administration in 2015.
The video ends with a link to the cattleman group’s website with a message “to file your WOTUS comments today!” Democrats no doubt think GAO’s findings will mirror a report issued against the Obama administration’s efforts to promote their WOTUS rule.
“We are deeply troubled that these recent EPA actions are the latest examples of EPA’s inappropriate use of taxpayer resources,” Democrats on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure wrote to GAO.
This isn’t the first time GAO has weighed in on whether EPA broke federal law. In 2015, GAO ruled an Obama EPA social media campaign constituted “covert propaganda, in violation of the publicity or propaganda prohibition.”
EPA illegally linked to environmentalist websites as part of a “thunderclap” campaign to promote WOTUS. EPA linked to sites with petitions for people to contact Congress to support more federal control of U.S. waterways.
“We conclude that EPA violated the anti-lobbying provisions contained in appropriations acts for FY 2015 when it obligated and expended funds in connection with establishing the hyperlinks to the webpages of environmental action groups,” GAO wrote in its report, which was requested by Republicans.
However, EPA disagreed with GAO’s findings. EPA told GAO the social media campaigns were “an appropriately far-reaching effort to educate the American public about an important part of EPA’s mission: protecting clean water.”
Now, the tables have turned and Democrats want to use GAO to hammer Pruitt.
Pruitt’s use of non-commercial aircraft is also under investigation by EPA’s inspector general. The investigation started as a probe into Pruitt’s frequent travel to his home state of Oklahoma, but later widened to include non-commercial travel after former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned for billing taxpayers for $400,000 in non-commercial jet travel.
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