An Oklahoma businessman tied to the energy industry reportedly helped his longtime friend, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt, obtain coveted tickets to see the Rose Bowl in January, according to a letter sent Thursday by a top ranking Democrat. Pruitt is currently the subject of more than a dozen federal investigations, many involving his financial and ethical decisions as leader of the agency.
The letter was sent by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to Renzi Stone, the head of the communications firm Saxum, which describes itself as having “extensive experience in marketing strategy, crisis communication and public affairs for energy companies.”
Cummings queried the specifics of the arrangement, the Washington Post first reported Friday. Addressing Stone, who is also an Oklahoma University Board of Regents member, Cummings noted that the energy executive played a key role in obtaining the tickets for Pruitt.
That information reportedly came to light after a former Pruitt aide, Millan Hupp, who served as director of scheduling and advance, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform recently that Stone had provided Pruitt and his family with Rose bowl tickets. Hupp is previously known to have arranged Pruitt’s travel to the game, which the official attended with his wife and two children.
According to Hupp’s testimony, Pruitt paid Stone for the tickets. In his letter, Cummings, who serves as a ranking member on the Oversight committee, noted that federal ethics rules “prohibit government employees from accepting gifts, such as tickets to sporting events, unless they pay ‘market value.'”
Pruitt paid $175 each for the tickets, which were valued at seven times that amount according to the New York Times.
Saxum’s slogan is “We Know Energy” and the agency has assisted a wide array of clients including Plains All American Pipeline. Media relations for that company told ThinkProgress the association between Plains and Saxum ended in November 2017 and was limited to Oklahoma-based public relations support for a pipeline construction project. Cummings noted in his letter that Plains currently has a petition before the EPA to “to discharge hydrostatic test water from a pipeline in Corpus Christi, Texas.”
Saxum has also done work for the American Petroleum Institute and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, as well as well-known corporations like 7-Eleven.
“I am writing to request documents regarding your actions in assisting EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in obtaining highly sought-after tickets to attend the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day where the University of Oklahoma Sooners played in the semifinal for the College Football Playoff National Championship,” Cummings wrote to Stone on Thursday.
Cummings asked Stone to provide “all documents and communications with Pruitt” from January 20, 2017 to present day. He gave Stone until June 28 to produce the requested materials. Stone is reportedly on a multi-week global trip with his family at present, but Friday on Twitter he confirmed both obtaining the tickets for Pruitt and doing so through an aide.
“Each year mid-Dec people call for OU bowl tickets. Scott Pruitt, my friend since 2001, asked through an aide if he could buy Rose Bowl tix,” Stone wrote. “I made connection to OU ticket office. He bought them. That’s it. I’ll respond to Rep. Cummings… we don’t do any work for clients at EPA.”
Each year mid-Dec people call for OU bowl tickets. Scott Pruitt, my friend since 2001, asked through an aide if he could buy Rose Bowl tix. I made connection to OU ticket office. He bought them. That’s it. I’ll respond to Rep. Cummings…we don’t do any work for clients at EPA.
— C. Renzi Stone (@renzistone33) June 15, 2018
Pruitt is under fire for a number of decisions as EPA administrator, including a sweetheart condo deal arranged with the wife of an energy lobbyist in 2017. His close ties with industry officials and lobbyists have also sparked criticism, in addition to relying on aides to undertake personal tasks on behalf, as seems to have been the case with the Rose Bowl ticket purchase, per Stone’s comments.
President Trump has stood by Pruitt thus far, a trend he continued on Friday when speaking with reporters.
“Scott’s done a fantastic job at EPA,” Trump said, adding that he was “not happy about certain things” before repeating, “he’s done a fantastic job running the EPA.”
This piece has been updated to clarify the nature of the relationship between Plains All American and Saxum.