By: Daniel Stevens, Executive Director of Campaign for Accountability
As Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt was the state’s chief law enforcement officer. But the recently released Tar Creek Audit suggests Pruitt was more interested in covering up misconduct than in holding wrongdoers accountable. That’s why my organization, Campaign for Accountability, had to sue the Office of the Attorney General to procure the release of an audit that — under Oklahoma state law — should have been made public years ago. It is also why CfA is continuing the legal fight to expose Scott Pruitt and Michael Hunter’s secret dealings.
The story is widely known across Oklahoma: state and federal officials worked together to establish a buyout program for residents living near the Tar Creek Superfund site. The community-led agency set up to oversee the buyout, the Lead-Impacted Communities Relocation Assistance Trust (LICRAT), was marred by allegations of corruption and favoritism from the very beginning.
Residents accused the Trust of overpaying for some properties and lowballing others, and the Trust failed to award a demolition contract to the lowest bidder. LICRAT’s conduct sparked several lawsuits and even a federal whistleblower suit. Residents who were forced out of their homes received some compensation through legal settlements, but the perpetrators, who pocketed millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, never faced any consequences.
In 2014, State Auditor Gary Jones found “sufficient circumstantial evidence for additional investigation into a potential conspiracy against the state” and reported his findings to then Attorney General Pruitt. Pruitt, though, inexplicably failed to investigate the matter. What’s worse, he and his successor Mike Hunter, tried to bury the audit and prevent the public from seeing its findings.
The Oklahoman interviewed every living State Auditor, save for one convicted of corruption, and “none of them could recall a single time when a state audit was not released publicly.” Scott Pruitt has long been known for his secrecy and disregard for transparency, but his decision to scuttle the audit set a new record.
Now that the audit has been released, it may be too late for the government to claw back its money. Meanwhile, the LICRAT contractors who swindled taxpayers are sitting on fat bank accounts. Ultimately, Scott Pruitt failed to protect the residents affected by Tar Creek, but it’s not too late to hold him and Mike Hunter accountable.
News reports have speculated that Pruitt withheld the audit to honor the wishes of Sen. Jim Inhofe, who was involved in the creation and funding of the buyout program. Reports also suggest Pruitt has his political future all mapped out, running for Inhofe’s Senate seat in 2020 and for president in 2024.
As the current administrator of the EPA, though, Pruitt oversees the entire Superfund program including the ongoing cleanup work at Tar Creek. And there’s reason to be concerned: Pruitt appointed his banker, Albert Kelly, who had no experience in environmental policy, to oversee the Superfund program after Kelly was fined and banned from working in finance.
Scott Pruitt’s record is clear — he failed to address the corruption at Tar Creek and now he’s appointed his crony to run the nation’s entire Superfund program. While we know what he did, we’re continuing our fight to find out exactly what Pruitt and then Hunter were so intent on keeping from the residents of the Sooner state.
Campaign for Accountability is a government watchdog based in Washington D.C.