The chairman of a House investigative subcommittee asked the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General to investigate reports an Obama administration appointee may have violated anti-lobbying laws.
Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold wants EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins to investigate Chemical Safety Board (CSB) member Rick Engler’s working with union activists to pressure Congress for funding. Farenthold chairs a subcommittee on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
“If substantiated, these actions appear to implicate federal provisions restricting lobbying activities by federal officials,” Farenthold wrote in a letter sent Tuesday.
“In light of this possible breach of federal anti-lobbying provisions, I request that your office investigate this matter and advise the committee as to whether these actions by a CSB board member violated any federal law or practice,” Farenthold wrote, citing a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation.
In May 2017, TheDCNF obtained emails showing Engler worked with the New Jersey Work Environment Council (WEC), which he founded in the late 1980s, to rally labor activists to pressure lawmakers to preserve CSB’s funding.
President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal eliminated the CSB. Congress ended up funding the CSB, but Trump’s 2019 budget plan again calls for eliminating the CSB.
Farenthold is concerned Engler violated the Anti-Lobbying Act, which “prohibits substantial ‘grass roots’ lobbying campaigns … designed to encourage members of the public to pressure members of Congress to support Administration or Department legislative or appropriations proposals,” according to DOJ.
It’s unclear if Engler would ever be charged for violating anti-lobbying laws. The Department of Justice is unlikely to prosecute Engler, but the Government Accountability Office has gone after agencies for similar actions.
“The situation certainly is a violation of the spirit of the Anti-Lobbying Act but probably does not rise to the level to meet DOJ standards as an actual violation of the Act,” Craig Holman, an expert on the issue who works for the left-leaning watchdog group Public Citizen, told TheDCNF in 2017.
The CSB was authorized in 1990, but the board was not set up until 1998 under President Bill Clinton. It’s an independent agency with no regulatory authority and investigates the root causes of industrial chemical disasters.
Currently, all four sitting CSB board members were appointed by former President Barack Obama.
Obama appointed Engler to CSB in 2014 as one of the many nominees pushed through the Senate after former Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, changed Senate rules.
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