Pruitt Used Position and Staff to Pursue a Chick-fil-A Franchise for His Wife

Pruitt saw a yummy opportunity for his wife. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is becoming a cartoon character. In his brief tenure in office, he seems to have devoted a remarkable amount of energy and public resources to self-aggrandizement and lavish perks. The latest incident originally arose just three months after his swearing-in. Apparently Pruitt fell off the turnip truck somewhere between Oklahoma City and Washington and discovered that maintaining homes in both places was going to be expensive. So he became very concerned about his wife pulling her weight by bringing in a good income. It’s unclear whether he considered letting her make her own career plans, but in any event, both he and his staff got very involved, according to a Washington Post report:

Three months after Scott Pruitt was sworn in as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, his executive scheduler emailed Dan Cathy, chairman and president of the fast food company Chick-fil-A, with an unusual request: Would Cathy meet with Pruitt to discuss “a potential business opportunity”?

A call was arranged, then canceled, and Pruitt eventually spoke with someone from the company’s legal department. Only then did he reveal the “opportunity” on his mind was a job for his wife, Marlyn.

“The subject of that phone call was an expression of interest in his wife becoming a Chick-fil-A franchisee,” company representative Carrie Kurlander told The Washington Post via email.

Now it’s worth knowing that getting a Chick-fil-A franchise is an unusual process, costing relatively little in the way of cash money but requiring a lot of personal vetting:

For most fast-food chains, the biggest roadblock to becoming a franchisee is cost. For example, if you want to be a franchisee at McDonald’s — another notoriously selective company — you need at least $750,000 in liquid assets and a background in business. Startup costs range from $955,708 to $2.3 million, including a $45,000 franchise fee.

Conversely, it only costs $10,00 to open a new Chick-fil-A, with no threshold for net worth or liquid assets. Chick-fil-A pays for all startup costs, including real estate, restaurant construction, and equipment. The chicken chain reports that it receives more than 20,000 inquiries from franchisee candidates every year. Of those candidates, Chick-fil-A selects just 75 to 80 new franchisees annually, according to spokesperson Amanda Hannah.

Without casting any aspersions on the chicken-sandwich purveyor’s integrity, you can imagine that a famously conservative Christian dude like Pruitt might have figured he could get his wife to the front of the line, with some help from his staff and his position in the president’s Cabinet. And then with a small outlay, the money would start rolling in.

It didn’t work out, but Pruitt had some other ideas for Marlyn:

Pruitt’s efforts on his wife’s behalf — revealed in emails recently released under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Sierra Club — did not end with Chick-fil-A. Pruitt also approached the chief executive of Concordia, a New York nonprofit organization. The executive, Matthew Swift, said he ultimately paid Marlyn Pruitt $2,000 plus travel expenses to help organize the group’s annual conference last September.

Needless to say, this is beyond sketchy:

Federal ethics laws bar public officials from using their position or staff for private gain. A Cabinet-level official using his perch to contact a company CEO about a job for his wife “raises the specter of misuse of public office,” said Don Fox, who was head of the federal Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration. “It’s not much different [from] if he [had] asked the aide to facilitate getting a franchise for himself.”

The more we learn of Scott Pruitt’s quite comprehensive abuses of his office, the more you wonder when he found the time to do his actual job, although blowing up his predecessors’ regulations and policies probably isn’t all that taxing. At some point, his accumulated issues could attract something more dangerous than laughter.

Pruitt Used Position to Pursue Chick-fil-A Gig for His Wife