May 11, 2017 Sandy Robson
On March 20, 2017, I submitted a FOIA request to the EPA for records relating to Washington state Senator Doug Ericksen, who was appointed by the Trump Administration to a Senior Adviser position with the EPA, which started on January 21, 2017. I have been checking daily on the FOIA website under my registered account to see if the records I requested were released, but each time I looked, my request would still display the following: “No records have been released.”
I had also been checking on the FOIA website on the other requests submitted for records relating to Doug Ericksen, and there have been few records released yet. But then, on Tuesday, May 9th, I noticed there were records released on May 8, 2017, pertaining to one request that had been submitted on April 10, 2017. The requestor listed is “Mr. Allan L. Blutstein,” with “America Rising.” In looking online, Allan Blutstein is Vice President of FOIA Operations at America Rising, a Republican opposition research firm that produces opposition research on Democratic Party members. According to SourceWatch.org, there is an associated America Rising super PAC.
Blutstein’s April 10, FOIA request reads: “All email sent and received by Michael Cox (Seattle) on March 31, 2017, the date of his resignation from the agency.”
Michael Cox had garnered national attention for what an April 12, 2017, Seattle Times article described as, “a blistering departure letter” he sent to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, on March 31st. Cox had worked for the EPA for 25 years until retiring on March 31 from his position as climate-change adviser. Major newspapers around the country covered the story of Cox’s resignation letter.
So, after I saw that an operative from a Republican opposition research firm received the email records (62 email records to be exact) he requested after only having to wait 20 business days, and yet there had still been no records released responsive to my request from March 20th, and my request was a much simpler request that should take less time to respond to than Blutstein’s, I researched the FOIA statutes pertaining to EPA FOIA requests to learn about those.
In the afternoon, on Tuesday, May 9th, I sent an email letter to the Director of the FOIA Expert Assistance Team office at EPA Headquarters, in which I cited sections of the U.S. Code, saying that according to those statutes, the records I requested should have already been released to me by now. I closed my letter by saying that unless the EPA could show good cause for the unexplained delay in its agency’s response to my FOIA request, that I ask them to immediately take steps to complete the processing of my request and release the responsive records to me. I have attached two screenshot photos, together which, show the full content of my May 9th email letter. At the bottom of this post, I also have included a link to a PDF of my letter.
I received a response email letter from the director on Wednesday, May, 10th, in the early morning, which said, in part, “As fate would have it,” that when she went into the FOIA online Wednesday morning to see what she could find out about my request, she saw that the responsive records had now been uploaded and my request has now been closed out.
Among the records released to me, were three EPA Earnings and Leave Statements (pay stubs) for Doug Ericksen. Those were for pay periods ending; March 4, March 18, and April 1. Ericksen’s pay stub for pay period ending April 1, would have been the most recent one available for release according to the March 20-submittal date of my FOIA request. In a FOIA request I had made in February, I had received Ericksen’s pay stubs for pay periods ending February 4, and February 18. I have attached three screenshot photos of Ericksen’s pay stub records I received.
As I had noted in a May 6 post, Senator Ericksen had told conservative talk radio host Dillon Honcoop, during a May 2nd interview on KGMI’s “The Morning Show” program, that his EPA temporary appointment which was expected to be for 120 days (since first being appointed on January 21 by the Trump Administration), would be winding up here in May.
It appears that Senator Ericksen is still working for the EPA since first starting with the agency on January 21. He has traveled multiple times to Washington, D.C., during this time period when he is still employed with the EPA, and according to Washington state Public Disclosure Commission filings, he has used surplus campaign fund monies to pay for a number of D.C. related travel expenses.
An April 30, 2017, “Seattle Times” article reported that Senator Ericksen has spent thousands of dollars in surplus campaign money for travel, and lodging and food in Washington, D.C. In the article, Ericksen claimed his spending is within the rules, and that all surplus fund expenditures are related to conducting his duties as an elected official. However, PDC filings show that in March, Ericksen traveled to D.C., and paid surplus campaign fund monies on March 16, 2017, to United Airlines, which would appear to be related to his travel to D.C., because on that same date, his campaign’s PDC filings show that he spent surplus campaign fund monies at a D.C. restaurant.
Also, potentially worth scrutiny is the fact that Senator Ericksen recently said he had traveled to D.C. in January for President Trump’s January 21 inauguration, and to meet with elected officials there. During the “Morning Show” program Ericksen and Honcoop discussed the “Seattle Times” April 30 article mentioned above, and Honcoop asked Ericksen: “Did you spend that money on going over [to D.C.] and doing that other [EPA] job?”
Ericksen answered: “Absolutely not. I went back to Washington D.C. for the inauguration, met with our congressional delegation, met with a ton of elected officials, uh, while I was back there conducting business as an elected official.”
However, PDC filings show that Ericksen spent surplus campaign monies at an Embassy Suites hotel in D.C., on January 23, and at a D.C. restaurant on January 19. It is likely that Ericksen would have had to show up at the EPA Headquarters office located at 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue to meet with staff there in preparation for his EPA employment, which was effective on January 21.
Potentially noteworthy, is something that was stated in Ericksen’s January 19, 2017, appointment/employment letter, that directed him to report to EPA Headquarters, on January 23, for orientation at 8:30 AM. The letter instructed him to bring with him specific documents which would be needed to set up Ericksen’s personnel record, set up benefits, and generate payroll information. I have attached two screenshot photos showing Ericksen’s January 19 appointment/employment letter.
So, we have Ericksen telling Honcoop and radio listeners that when he traveled to D.C. and spent surplus campaign fund monies during his time there, he did so in his elected role, representing Washington state. While it’s possible that Ericksen may have met with elected officials in D.C. as he claims he did, it does appear that some of his activities during that trip were directly related to his EPA employment.
In the April 30, “Seattle Times” article, Evelyn Fielding Lopez, executive director of the PDC, had stated that, “using surplus funds for expenses related to a different elected office or job would not be appropriate.” Although, she also made the point that, “There might be a perfectly legitimate public-office-related activity going on.”
The only way to know for certain, is for the PDC and the Washington State Attorney General’s office to thoroughly investigate Senator Ericksen’s surplus campaign fund expenditures. They would need to obtain a detailed, full accounting of those, and to compel Ericksen to provide substantiation that that his travel on multiple occasions to D.C., and his activities there, directly related solely to him conducting business as a Washington state senator, and at no point, did that relate to his EPA employment.
Link to the PDF of my full email letter (May 9, 2017) to Director of the FOIA Expert Assistance Team office:
Link to “Seattle Times” April 30, 2017, article: