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Trump’s EPA nominee “unsure” if big oil gave him hundreds of thousands of dollars

Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions from some of America’s biggest oil companies — and on Wednesday, Senate Democrats seized the spotlight to point it out.

At the confirmation hearing for EPA nominee Scott Pruitt, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse pointed to a large blue cardboard sign held by a staffer. It illustrated the ties between fossil fuel companies and political organizations run by Pruitt, who is currently the attorney general of Oklahoma.

As the Washington Post reported in December, the energy sector donated nearly half of the contributions received by Liberty 2.0, a Super PAC run by Pruitt. The fossil fuel companies Pruitt will soon be responsible for regulating also gave more than $318,000 to his reelection campaign for attorney general, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Whitehouse pressed these points at Wednesday’s Senate Environment and Public Works committee hearing. Initially, Pruitt, who plans to be an ally of oil and gas by dismantling much of Obama’s environmental legacy, deflected Whitehouse’s questions, before acknowledging that he had been at fundraisers with Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries.

Here’s their exchange:

WHITEHOUSE: One of the things I would like to ask you about here is the connection between you and some of the fossil fuel companies. This is — these are some of the companies that have supported you. These are some of the political organizations that you have raised money for. You have raised money for them, for Pruitt for Attorney General, correct?

PRUITT: Yes, sir, I have a campaign committee.

WHITEHOUSE: Devon Industry, Exxon Mobil, have all maxed out to that account.

PRUITT: I'm not aware [of that], but I’m sure they’ve given to that committee.

WHITEHOUSE: Oklahoma Strong PAC was your leadership PAC?

PRUITT: It was.

WHITEHOUSE: And similarly they maxed out to that organization as well?

PRUITT: I’m unsure about that.

WHITEHOUSE: You closed your Super PAC, Liberty 2.0. But that took fossil fuel contributions as well?

PRUITT: That particular entity has been closed, yes.

WHITEHOUSE: You helped raise money for the Republican Attorney Generals Association while you were on its executive committee. They received $530,000 from Koch Industries, $350,000 from Marine Energy, $160,000 from Exxon Mobil, and $125,000 from Devon Energy, the company whose letter you transposed onto your letterhead and sent as an Oklahoma Attorney General document. Did you solicit in your role at the Republican Attorney Generals Association any of that funding?

PRUITT: I’m unable to confirm if they gave those numbers.

WHITEHOUSE: You solicited funding from them.

PRUITT: I attended fundraising events with them as attorneys general.

There’s something a little rich about Democrats complaining so loudly about the role of money in the political system. After all, Hillary Clinton took more than $300,000 from those in the oil and gas industry — and the Democratic Party has taken millions from lobbyists and corporate interests.

But Clinton lost. Could that liberate Democratic lawmakers to more pointedly make the case that corporate campaign contributions can warp the decisions of those in government? Judging by Whitehouse’s line of questioning, it certainly seems possible.