EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has brought a level of corruption to the federal government seldom seen since the days of the Teapot Dome Scandal.
Among the scandals involving Pruitt are overspending on his office and on security personnel, flying first class (along with his security personnel), getting a below-market rental from a lobbyist, and giving long-time aides an inexplicable raise for their new jobs.
And those are just the financial scandals. There are also the trip to Morocco that looked a lot like a vacation, the courtside basketball seats from a billionaire coal executive, and his active hiding of his public appearances.
So of course it makes perfect sense that Pruitt, beloved of energy executives for rolling back regulations they hate, would get wrapped up in a scandal involving Chick-fil-A. It’s the harmonic convergence between the corruption rife in the Trump administration and the culture wars the administration is reviving.
This scandal involves Pruitt seeking to connect with Dan Cathy, the head of Chick-fil-A, to help Pruitt’s wife get a restaurant franchise. Pruitt being Pruitt, he not only leveraged his political position, but he used federal employees’ time to get his wife, Marilyn, work.
“The Administrator would like to talk about a potential business opportunity with Mr. Cathy,” Pruitt’s executive schedule said in an email to the company.
Business opportunity aside, Pruitt and Cathy have a lot in common.
Like Cathy, Pruitt is a conservative Christian. Opposition to LGBTQ rights is characteristic to both: Cathy is notorious for his opposition to marriage equality, while Pruitt may have the distinction of being the most homophobic member of Trump’s already homophobic Cabinet.
But it wasn’t just a shared hated of all things gay that would make Pruitt want to reach out to Cathy. Pruitt was trying to get a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife.
At first glance, that seems like just another way Pruitt is trying to use his position to line his family’s pockets. But Chick-fil-A franchises are unlike other fast food franchises in that there is little upfront cost attached to them.
A typical McDonald’s franchise requires the would-be owner to ante up at least $1 million and possibly double that. By contrast, a Chick-fil-A franchise costs only $10,000. The company covers all the start-up costs, including real estate and construction, and doesn’t even require that you meet a threshold for personal assets.
In return, the company has complete control over the operation. Franchisees can’t sell the business or pass it along to the next generation.
Chick-fil-A gets about 20,000 expressions of interest from potential franchisees every year. They select only 75 candidates, after the company interviews not only the candidates but their family and friends.
Because the process is so onerous, Pruitt was trying to cut to the head of the line. Ultimately, he never did get to speak to Cathy, talking only to someone in Chick-fil-A’s legal department. His wife didn’t get a franchise.
For all his touting of morality, Pruitt seems happy to cut every possible ethical corner.
This latest episode is a clear-cut violation of federal law by Pruitt, both for using an aide for personal business (something Pruitt has a pattern of doing) and for using his office for personal gain. Pruitt already has twelve other investigations pending into his actions at the EPA.
Of course, Pruitt has a role model in President Trump. After all, the man to whom Pruitt reports has a hotel down the street where business people stay in hopes of currying his favor.
Pruitt has done his own bit there as well. Reports came out this week that he had an aide (of course) seek to purchase a used mattress from the Trump Hotel, no doubt so that he could boast to his boss about how great it is.
That’s why Pruitt keeps his job. He’s really good at kissing up to the grifter-in-chief.