Scott Pruitt

D.C. Government Thinks It Found the Real Problem With EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's Sweetheart Condo Deal

The Scott Pruitt condo scandal is all about rent-seeking, but not in the way the D.C. city government seems to think.

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MIKE THEILER/UPI/Newscom

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is the latest Trump official to be caught in a swirl of ethical questions. In this case, The Washington Post uncovered a sweetheart housing deal allowing Pruitt to pay $50 a night for a luxury condo near the U.S. Capitol.

The condo is owned by Vicki Hart, a prominent health care lobbyist who happens to be married to J. Steven Hart, an energy lobbyist. It's not difficult to see how that could create a potential conflict of interest for Pruitt, whose office has been directly lobbied by Steven Hart during the time that Pruitt has been paying well below market rates to stay at the condo. In all, Pruitt paid about $6,100 in rent between March 18 and September 1 of last year, and sometimes didn't even pay on time. That's absurdly low compared to what the Harts could have charged for the space, but it's a small price for having direct access to a high-ranking official with the power to grant favors.

When he's not staying in the $50 apartment, Pruitt frequently travels back to his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at taxpayer expense, and he's been known to take a rather large—by EPA administrator standards, at least—security entourage with him wherever he goes. Aside from all that, questions have been raised about Pruitt using public staff for private work, spending more than $40,000 to build a phone booth in his office, and giving out big pay raises to top aides without permission from the White House.

All in all, it seems appropriate for Pruitt to face scrutiny in the press, from his bosses in the Trump administration, and from ethics investigators at the EPA and in Congress.

But the D.C. city government wants a piece of the action too. On Thursday, the city's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs hit the Harts with a citation for failing to have the proper permits to rent their condo, an offense that could carry a fine of up to $2,000—or, in more Biblical terms, 40 days and 40 nights of having Pruitt as a tenant. In the city's eyes, Vicki Hart's arrangement with Pruitt may violate rules governing short-term rentals like Airbnb.

This is surely nothing more than a minor sideshow in a story that already has plenty of legs, but the citation is notable for two reasons.

First, the idea that two lobbyists offering a sweetheart housing deal to a top government official would go through the necessary channels to get the proper permits is pretty funny. So is the idea that a $2,000 fine would deter this type of thing. The Harts could easily have charged double the rate Pruitt was paying—the average two-bedroom apartment in that neighborhood goes for about $3,000 per month—so it's safe to conclude that they weren't worried about making money with this lease.

But second, and more important, is the fact that while Pruitt's sweet Capitol Hill condo arrangement is far from being the typical short-term rental in Washington, D.C., the penalties are exactly that. A family in Shaw or a single mother in Anacostia who is trying to make ends meet by renting extra rooms via Airbnb or another short-term rental platform could face the same punishment being handed down against Vicki Hart. And that person wouldn't be able to laugh it off as a rounding error on a lobbying expense report.

Some D.C. officials are looking for new ways to limit the short-term rental market by limiting how many rooms can be rented in a single home and how many rentals a homeowner can make in a single year. They'll have real consequences on anyone trying to scrape out a living that way in the nation's capital.

No one except the bureaucrats at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs seriously believes that the problem with Pruitt's housing arrangement is the lack of a permit. We should apply that same logic to other situations, and ask whether it makes sense in any circumatance for the city government to require a permission slip for something an innocuous as letting someone sleep in your extra bedroom.

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69 responses to “D.C. Government Thinks It Found the Real Problem With EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's Sweetheart Condo Deal

  1. Looking through the WaPo’s archives, can’t see any mentions of Obama administration officials’ overnight lodging arrangements. So the Post must have checked them all out and found nothing?

    1. That’s a different kind of darkness along with sue and settle, secret science, and Richard Windsor.

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    2. I bet Fox News did.

    3. So this scandal is mitigated because of similar, but nonexistent, scandals that hypothetically could have happened in the Obama administration.

      1. Actually, Obama EPA officials spent more for lodging than Pruitt has in the same amount of time. People remember the past eight years. We weren’t all in a coma, Tony

        1. Um, isn’t the scandal that he got cheap lodging?

      2. It’s more that people like you pretend to care about shit only when it helps you politically.

        But you already knew that.

        1. Such goth-like levels of “nothing matters,” but mostly when it serves to let Republicans off the hook.

          There are reasons I think Republicans are terrible, and they keep proving me right.

          1. “Such goth-like levels of “nothing matters,” but mostly when it serves to let Republicans off the hook.”

            We learned it by watching you

            1. No you didn’t. What is with today? The weather? It’s Friday. Why is everyone defending Trump’s ridiculous administration so much and making shit up about me?

              1. I like that you think people here aree unfamiliar with you, and that lying is going to get anywhere.

                Listen, If you want to spend the 8 years of the trump administration looking as petty and hypocritical as possible that’s your business

                1. Trump is going to spend whatever remains of his first and only term being petty and hypocritical, among other things.

  2. Perhaps you could state the actual facts – Pruit paid $50/night for the use of a BEDROOM in the condo, not for exclusive use of the entire condo. Kind of changes the whole story, doesn’t it?

    1. Did you know that he has a mortage back in OK? Scandalous.

    2. $1500/month for A bedroom?
      Yea, that changes the story quite a bit.

    3. Not really, you’re not going to find $50 a night for a room even on airBnb in that area.

      1. “you’re not going to find $50 a night for a room even on airBnb in that area.”

        I just did. Feel free to check yourself, but yeah, you’re wrong.

        1. Did those involve condos where no one was using the other rooms? And you were free to let your daughter use the empty bedrooms?

          1. Who’s going to stop you from using the other bedrooms if no one else is there?

    4. Don’t like that one, this article mentions like 5 other scandals. This guy is a piece of work. Just imagine it was an Obama official.

      1. You mean like Hillary?

        1. Jesus, get over it. She lost.

          1. Did she BUCS? Did she?

            During the Obama administration, Bush’s name was invoked so often that I was suspicious that Bush was actually still president. Well if you watch Fox News now it would appear that Hillary is actually president. There are shadow presidents everywhere.

            What if Jimmy Carter is actually the real president? Pulling strings behind the scenes. I want to believe

            1. What if Jimmy Carter is actually the real president?

              Zombie Nixon would like to have a word with you.

            2. Now I’m filled with doubts. Now Trump’s massive peanut subsidies are extra suspicious.

      2. “Just imagine it was an Obama official.”

        Ok, I’m imagining it. And in my imagination you are defending the individual….

        1. He wouldn’t have been around in the first place, but if he were he’d have been long canned. There can be a difference between how much corruption administrations tolerate!

      3. you have to be pretty stupid to think finding a cheap room is a scandal

        1. Yeah he “found” it. Owned by an energy lobbyist, what a coinkidink!

          1. Thanks for confirming my point.

            1. This is a libertarian website. We care about government corruption here.

              1. NOW. If you think lying about Obama’s term will go anywhere for you you’re the lying hperpartisan clown everyone thinks you are.

                1. But Obama’s administration was famously lacking in corruption, whatever you may have heard from the jowls of Limbaugh.

                  1. I wonder if the lack of scandal had anything to do with outright prosecution of journalists and wiretapping them?

                    Nah, probably not. His administration was just curious, that’s all.

                    (Of course, it’s absurd to think his administration was famously lacking in corruption. There were actually a lot of scandals, you just hand wave them away even while if Trump had done the identical thing you would make comparisons to Hitler.)

                    You simply have zero credibility Tony. None whatsoever.

                    1. So name one.

                    2. Wow, you honestly can’t remember even one Obama era scandal? Did you just wake up from a coma?

                      It doesn’t really matter which one I name, you’ll have an excuse for why it wasn’t ‘really’ a scandal. That tends to happen when you view any scandal on the part of your own party as a baseless political attack while even the most minor infraction on the part of the opposition party as a ‘literally Hitler’ issue.

    5. Right, he didn’t have use of the rest of the condo, wink, wink. That’s why his daughter was using the other bedroom, right?

  3. ask whether it makes sense in any circumatance for the city government to require a permission slip for something an innocuous as letting someone sleep in your extra bedroom.

    “Circumatance” — I like it!

    And don’t forget to have the IRS go after the Harts’ rental income.

  4. Well there may be something to the Pruitt scandals, because the reaction from some on the Right appears to be “they are going after him because he’s been so successful!”

    http://thefederalist.com/2018/…..-him-gone/

    1. And this is the hard part for me. Government employees should get reamed for misusing taxpayer dollars, but it’s hard to tell if this is an actual scandal or just the usual double standards that the media has employed so frequently during this administration. There is no doubt that Pruitt is among the most hated of the administration and the Wall Street Journal showed that Pruitt has spent less than President Obama’s EPA administrator during the same amount of time on travel and lodging.

      It reminds me of when the press chastises the administration for congratulating Putin on his election win or invites Sissi of Egypt to the White House. These actions are very much normal and are not without precedent, yet the bulk of the media pretends as if it is unusual and “disturbing”.

      There are good reasons why people don’t take the media’s criticisms at face value and that’s unfortunate.

      1. Government employees should not be doing business with contractors and lobbyists.

        However, an actual rule against that would probably make it impossible to find food or lodging in DC.


        1. However, an actual rule against that would probably make it impossible to find food or lodging in DC.

          Pretty much this. I suspect if you looked at any deep state agents lodging history in D.C. you’ll inevitably find a conflict of interest. That’s not an excuse, it’s just telling that we’re only hearing about it in terms of people that D.C.’s swamp wants gone.

          On principle he should be held to account for himself. Sadly, I suspect this is yet one more instance where principles are being used against those who have them by those who do not.

          I’m honestly not sure a good outcome is possible in this scenario.

  5. Don’t forget Eric’s other point. DC is trying to slap this fine on Pruitt that they would slap on anyone else for the ‘crime’ of an AirBNB-type arrangement. That really is worse than whether there was some corrupt relationship between Pruitt and Hart.

    1. This is true. He shouldn’t receive special dispensation not afforded to others

      1. Well, what I meant (and wasn’t very clear) is that this fine shouldn’t even exist in the first place.

        1. Agreed.

        2. Yes, but if it does exist than it should be uniformly assessed.

          1. You mean uniformly ignored?

            1. Either of those two options would be better than the status quo, so you’re both right.

  6. It says a lot about trump’s enemies that they think saving money is something that should be a prosecutable offense

    1. Meh. So does Trump, demonstrably.

      1. That makes their behavior even worse.

  7. so he rented a room below market rate, You realize that many landowners will gladly rent space below market value when they know the renter will take care of the property.

  8. Wow. It is amazing that so many people are focusing on the cheapness of the rental and not the actual controversy.

    People aren’t complaining that he got a cheap place to rent. People are complaining that the cheap place to rent is provided as a favor from a major energy sector lobbyist. Basically, Pruitt is being bribed by a lobbyist. That is the controversy.

    1. I do agree with you, but notably the cheapness of the condo is the controversy since it’s assumed that the rate was abnormally low and thus a favor when there are at least some people claiming that the rate itself wasn’t actually unusual.

      This is Hit n’ Run though, so it’s pretty much spit takes all day every day.

      1. Assumed seems to be the appropriate word here.

        1. Exactly, but such an investigation should take all of perhaps an hour yet I’m sure this ‘scandal’ will last as long as it takes to get a scalp. Hopefully not, since as ethics breaches go this one is pretty thin gruel without an actual ‘pay to play’ smoking gun.

  9. Just to put this out there, but part of the reason there’s so much ammo against this particular EPA chief is because he seems to be less secretive than past chief’s.

    This kind of deal, though, is quite definitely suspect and should be investigated. I simply wish that these types of ‘scandals’ would have seen the light of day for previous EPA chiefs and the rest of the Deep State actors. I wouldn’t put it past lobbyists to give a sweetheart deal and leak it to the press on their own since there’s at least some possibility that they’d love to get some other guy in that slot. I put nothing past the D.C. swamp.

    Lynch meeting with Clinton on the tarmac? Not suspicious. No big deal.

    EPA chief staying in a room owned by lobbyists? SUSPICIOUS!

    Just saying, there’s a huge disconnect in tone with media outlets and it’s clear the differentiating factor is the (D) or (R).

    1. “seems to be less secretive than past chief’s”

      Well, except for that soundproof phone booth…

      1. You mean his cone of silence? I think every office in D.C. has one.

        Some of the real old timers still use their shoe phones, too.

        1. He’s so secretive that he now requires that all EPA rulings and regulations must use openly available science. The fact that Tony and chemjeff are convinced that something must be here tells you just how threatening he is.

          1. Well, if the reasoning of their decisions rests upon openly available science then they might accidentally become transparent, and we can’t have that.

            I mean, personally I’d prefer for the EPA to be utterly dissolved but since that appears to be an extreme position here in the States I suppose I’ll have to settle for a guy that wants to reform those giants into something that might actually pretend to be accountable.

            1. The inner dliberations of the cardinals scientists cannot be revealed. All you need to worry about is the color of the smoke coming out the chimney.

              1. We all should be well aware by now that they consider us sheep to be herded in the correct direction decided by themselves, the obvious shepherds, so actual verbatim minutes of their meetings would be offense to the average person’s sensibilities to say the least.

                It’s never been about the actual science, since the actual science is fairly well known in terms of what causes virtually all heating/cooling effects on Earth. It’s called ‘the Sun’ and it’s output is actually quite down as of late (I’ve heard more than one mention of the Maunder Minimum lately).

                Rather than notice that perhaps there’s a relation, the climate alarmists double down on gnawing upon the furniture.

  10. None of this would happen if we didn’t have an EPA.

  11. They charged him the going rate for a 1 BR/1BA condo in DC.

    http://www.condo.com/Washington-DC/For-Rent

    So, yes he got more condo that he otherwise would have, but no, he didn’t spend less than he otherwise would have.

    And yes, this is a ridiculous breach of ethics. On the other hand, it seems pretty par for the course in my dealings with academic/government types. Those people have no clue, in general.

    1. Well, as sinister investigations go that was certainly quick.

      $50 a night, assuming 30 nights per month, comes out to $1500 w/o tax which appears to be ballpark what one would otherwise pay.

      Well done, sir.

  12. You go out of your way to condemn Pruitt saying: he “frequently travels back to his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at taxpayer expense, and he’s been known to take a rather large?by EPA administrator standards, at least?security entourage with him wherever he goes.”

    But you must know that Pruitt, as a Trump appointee and unlike previous EPA heads, has had multiple death threats against him. You show your unconscionably large bias against President Trump by being negative about Pruitt’s large security entourage.

    Don’t you understand that many socialists, who seem to believe in Hitler’s maxim that the end justifies the means, condone violence and even lies against those with whom they disagree. Do you subscribe to any part of Hitler’s maxim?

    Pruitt actually seems to be doing an outstanding job, far better than his Obama predecessors, see for example: https://reason.com/archives/201…..a-decision

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