A Republican Firm Is Targeting EPA Staff Who Have Donated to Democrats – REBECCA LEBER Reporter Aug 2019

America Rising has been filing records requests for the emails of agency officials who have supported Rep. Ilhan Omar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and others.

On July 10, Loreen Targos disrupted an Environmental Protection Agency awards ceremony where Administrator Andrew Wheeler recognized her team’s “exemplary problem-solving and project management” in a Great Lakes remediation project. After shaking Wheeler’s hand, Targos, an EPA project officer based in Chicago, unfurled a banner that called for a “fair contract to address public health & climate change,” a reference to the agency’s negotiations with the AFGE Council 238 union, which represents more than 8,000 EPA employees.

Two weeks after Targos’ protest made the news, the Republican opposition research outfit America Rising filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking her correspondence. Specifically, the group was looking for “Emails sent by Loreen Targos, EPA scientist, that mention Congresswoman Ilhan Omar,” to whom the EPA staffer had donated $215 earlier this year. It was the first in a series of FOIA requests made by Allan Blutstein, an America Rising lawyer and senior vice president, seeking the records of EPA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees who have contributed to Democrats. At least two of these requests have focused on supporters of Omar, a Minnesota lawmaker who has become a GOP bugaboo.

“They’re looking for something that doesn’t exist,” Targos, a AFGE Local 704 union steward, says.

Blutstein appears to be searching for evidence that Targos and other EPA and NOAA employees violated the Hatch Act, which forbids government employees from performing any electioneering during work hours and from hosting political fundraisers. (Earlier this summer, the Office of Special Counsel recommended that presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway be fired for repeated Hatch Act violations.) Government employees, however, are free to donate to political candidates so long as the contribution is made on their personal time and does not involve the use of government resources or equipment.

It is unclear if Targos’ protest and the records request for her emails are related. But since July 24, Blutstein has submitted at least eight other requests concerning EPA and NOAA employees whose only common trait is that they have donated to Democrats. The requests have zeroed in on staffers who have donated to Omar and other Democratic members and candidates, as well as the presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Jay Inslee. Blutstein targets have included an EPA geologist, several EPA attorneys, and a National Weather Service staffer.

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