The Slatest

Oklahoma’s Attorney General Had an Oil and Gas Company Write a Letter to the EPA For Him

The Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City.

Phil Anthony/Shutterstock

The New York Times published a long piece over the weekend about coordination between Republican attorneys general and corporate interests; the star of the piece is Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, who has a great working relationship with lobbyists. Literally: Sometimes lobbyists do his work for him.

The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.

But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.

“Outstanding!” William F. Whitsitt, who at the time directed government relations at the company, said in a note to Mr. Pruitt’s office.

Devon Energy happens to be involved in helping fund a group called the Republican Attorneys General Association, which recently paid for Pruitt and his peers to spend a weekend meeting at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel, where a small room with a king bed can run you $489 a night.

The Times report is extensive, detailing cooperation between a number of state attorneys and companies upset about Obama-imposed federal regulations. Some of what the Times documents is unobjectionable; the newspaper notes that Democratic attorneys general have in the past coordinated efforts with activist groups like the Sierra Club. But other parts of the account describe government officials who seem to be treating special interests as clients—as in the case of a former chief of staff for Pruitt who was simultaneously in charge of setting his agenda (which involved energy issues) and raising money from large donors (including energy companies) for the aforementioned Attorneys General Association:

Ms. Drwenski, who is no longer Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff, asked Devon Energy in 2012, on a workday afternoon, for help in signing up the American Petroleum Institute as a member of the Republican Attorneys General Association. She used her personal email account to send out the initial request. But the subsequent exchange took place on her work email account, even though Oklahoma state law prohibits state officials from using state property or time to solicit political contributions.

Much of an American politician’s job, of course, consists of going to elaborate lengths to be able to plausibly deny quid pro quo arrangements with donors. What’s unusual about the subjects of the Times piece is that they don’t seem to be doing much to convince anyone that there isn’t a “pro” between the “quid” and the “quo.”