Ethics Experts Say Scott Pruitt Reimbursements Raise Questions About Double-Dipping

Andrew Perez | May 08, 2018

Oklahoma campaign finance records suggest Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt may have been reimbursed twice for items he purchased while serving as the state’s attorney general, experts say.

Pruitt requested state taxpayers reimburse him roughly $400 last February for a mirror, a plant, a planter, and a vase that were bought in 2011, shortly before he began his stint as Oklahoma’s law enforcement chief. Records reviewed by MapLight show Pruitt’s campaign reimbursed him in 2014 for identical totals purchased from the same stores.

The plant and planter were among five items purchased at TLC Memorial, an Oklahoma City garden store, for a total of $179.33. Pruitt’s campaign paid him that same amount for office decorations from TLC Memorial in August 2014, according to campaign finance records. The mirror came from Pirates Alley, an Oklahoma City frame shop, and cost $238.43 with tax. In 2014, Pruitt’s campaign reimbursed him that same amount for items purchased at Pirates Alley.

Requesting reimbursement from the state and a campaign for the same purchases is known as “double-dipping” and has led to felony charges in Oklahoma before. Last year, a former Republican leader in the Oklahoma House of Representatives pleaded guilty to felony perjury for accepting taxpayer reimbursement for trips that had already been paid for with campaign funds.

Pruitt has been surrounded by controversy in recent months, following reports that he rented a Washington townhouse from an energy lobbyist for a below-market nightly rate of $50. He has faced scrutiny for racking up millions in security costs and for frequently flying first-class, and has been criticized for reportedly retaliating against EPA employees who questioned his spending habits.

While Pruitt’s campaign filings list when some expenditures took place, the TLC Memorial and Pirates Alley purchases do not include a date, so it’s impossible to independently verify whether his state reimbursement request was legitimate.

Multiple EPA spokespeople did not respond to questions from MapLight about Pruitt’s reimbursement request.

Brendan Fischer, a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center, questioned the likelihood of Pruitt buying items from the same stores twice and arriving at identical totals.

“Every indication is that Pruitt was seeking reimbursement from both his campaign and Oklahoma taxpayers for these expenses,” Fischer said. “A politician can’t seek reimbursement from both their campaign and taxpayers for the same expense. Either he’s violated campaign finance laws, or he’s violated ethics laws.”

Craig Holman, an ethics advocate at Public Citizen, said it’s “odd that [Pruitt] should seek taxpayer reimbursement for expenses that had already been paid long ago from his campaign account.”

“Whether or not this is double-dipping, it is clear that Pruitt isn’t paying for any of this,” he said.

The campaign reimbursements for the office decorations were made on Aug. 7, 2014, while Pruitt was running unopposed in his first re-election campaign. The campaign reported paying Pruitt more than $13,000 on Aug. 7 for 109 separate expenses -- including for four years of meals at the Beacon Club, a private Oklahoma City club frequented by businessmen and politicians.

Pruitt’s attorney general campaigns reimbursed him more than $68,000 for 232 expenditures between 2010 and 2017.