The lobbyist whose wife rented Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt a room in a Capitol Hill condo for $50 a night lobbied the agency on behalf of several clients during Pruitt’s tenure despite his claims to the contrary, according to disclosure forms filed by his former law firm.
J. Steven Hart, who announced his retirement in April as chairman of Williams & Jensen, contacted the EPA on behalf of Coca-Cola, the Financial Oversight and Management Control Board of Puerto Rico and Smithfield Foods.
In interviews with The Washington Post and other media this spring, Hart said he did not lobby the agency in either 2017 or 2018. But The Post and other outlets reported that Hart had helped line up a meeting between Pruitt and a Smithfield Foods executive vice president, who was acting in his capacity as a representative of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. Both Hart and Smithfield Foods said the meeting was not tied to official company business.
The additional lobbying contacts by Hart remained undisclosed until Williams & Jensen revealed them late this week. The Hill first reported those disclosures.
When Hart stepped down from the firm in April, he suggested in a note to friends and family that the scrutiny over his wife’s condo rental to Pruitt played a role in expediting his exit.
Soon after his departure, Williams & Jensen brought in an outside attorney, ethics expert Jan Baran of Wiley Rein, to examine Hart’s lobbying record. Rein scoured the firm’s disclosure filings from 2017 and 2018, as well as Hart’s own communications and meeting schedule. As a result of that inquiry, the firm filed amendments to federal lobbying disclosure reports involving seven of Hart’s clients, including the three linked to the EPA.
Hart could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
“We pride ourselves on our reputation for exceptional client service and our commitment to operating under the highest ethical standards, so we take our obligations under the Lobbying Disclosure Act very seriously,” a spokesman for Williams & Jensen said in a statement Friday. “Today the firm filed amendments to several disclosure reports that include information that was not previously disclosed to our firm and therefore not included in the original filings. No Williams & Jensen client is in any way responsible for the incompleteness of our original filings.”
The updated disclosure forms show that Hart and other lobbyists had contact with the EPA during 2017 on “environmental issues impacting the beverage industry, clean water supply and water conservation.”
In addition, a trove of emails released this week under the Freedom of Information Act show that Sydney Hupp, a scheduler for Pruitt, emailed Hart on March 20, 2017.
“Reaching out about setting up the Coca-Cola meeting that you emailed Ryan about,” she wrote, referencing Ryan Jackson, Pruitt’s chief of staff. “Administrator Pruitt will be leaving town early afternoon on Thursday but I would like to try to find a time before then to set up the meeting. Is there an opportunity to meet late afternoon on Wednesday?”
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in an email Friday that the meeting ultimately did not take place.
“This meeting involving Coca-Cola and their clean water stewardship did not occur,” Wilcox said. “The request was submitted, and it went unfilled.”