The details of Pruitt's rental agreement are unknown, but lobbyist J. Steven Hart said he believed Pruitt was paying "market rate".
“I think it certainly creates a perception problem, especially if Mr. Hart is seeking to influence the agency,” said Bryson Morgan, the former investigative counsel at the U.S. House of Representatives Office of Congressional Ethics. “That’s why there is a gift rule.”
Hart and his wife, Vicki Hart, were called a "lobbyist power couple" by Roll Call in 2010.
Among Hart's clients are Cheniere Energy Inc. and Norfolk Southern railroad, and Hart has lobbied on EPA policies like the Clean Air Act as well as “issues affecting coal usage, oil production, and transportation, including EPA regulation.”
Morgan, an ethics expert in private practice in Washington, D.C., said the lobbying connection only further muddies the living arrangement. He said the rental agreement could create ethics problems for Pruitt even if he did reimburse his landlord for rent.
“What are the terms of the rental agreement?” Morgan asked. “It’s not just a question if he is paying market rent. Was he given the ability to end it immediately? Would someone come after him if he were not to pay rent?”