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Scott Pruitt condo scandal continues apace

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The Capitol Hill condo that cost the EPA chief $50 a night was also rented out to a GOP senator for double the price

Scott Pruitt testifies at his confirmation hearing at the Senate committee in Washington DC., January 18, 2017.
 
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Looks like Scott Pruitt isn’t the only Washington insider with a talent for finding cheap rent.

According to The Daily Beast, the same lobbyist-owned condo where the Environmental Protection Agency chief stayed for $50 a night last year was also used by Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) for a series of fundraising events.

Crapo’s political action committee told the Federal Election Commission yesterday that it had paid a company owned by Vicki Hart, the wife of energy lobbyist J. Steven Hart, $300 for three events.

That disclosure raises two important questions. First, was the payment an in-kind contribution to Crapo’s campaign by Hart’s LLC? That would be illegal, since companies are legally prohibited from contributing to federal political campaigns.

Second, and more relevant to the mounting issues facing the EPA head, is this further indication that Pruitt was being charged a below-market rate for staying at the condo, suggesting an unethical arrangement? The issue of fair market rent has been a central part of the controversy around Pruitt’s stay at the home for six months in 2017, just as he was beginning his current position as EPA administrator.

A townhouse sits on the 200 block of C Street, NE, March 30, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. It has been reported that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has lived in the property, which is co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, for about six months during his first year in office.
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Pruitt’s claim that $50 a night, or roughly $1,500 a month, for the two-bedroom condo was equivalent to market rent has been widely decried as false. A Washington Post report found one-bedroom units in the same building going for between $3,100 and $4,500 per month. Claims that this was an “Airbnb-style arrangement” have also been challenged; the website Inside Airbnb found that the average nightly cost of a room in Capitol Hill is $142 per night.

The property, at 223 C Street, Northeast, is less than a block from the Capitol Building.

Pruitt’s rate was lower than the rate the District of Columbia spends to house a homeless family ($100 a night), or the amount it provides to help low-income families needing housing assistance ($78 a night).

Pruitt and his staff have repeatedly claimed that staying in a home owned by the wife of a energy industry lawyer was cleared by the EPA ethics committee, and that $50 a night in Capitol Hill is fair market rent. Crapo’s use of the same condo, for double the price (while still a comparative bargain), raises questions about the true value of that condo.

Pruitt’s staff has pushed back again on these allegations, as well as others dodging the EPA chief, in a 23-page memo provided to the Daily Beast and other outlets. That memo outlines Pruitt’s testimony today at a pair of congressional budget hearings and argues that while Pruitt did meet with J. Steven Hart during his stay, the meeting was acting in his “personal capacity.”

Senator Crapo’s use of the rowhouse came to light via a complaint filed with the FEC by the watchdog group Campaign for Accountability.

The use of the condo by lawmakers, and the questions it raises about ethics and influence, has taken a toll on the Harts: J. Steven Hart recently resigned from his position as an attorney at Williams & Jensen.