House Oversight chairman investigates political activities by Administration officials
Politico reports that House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) sent a letter to the heads of 18 Cabinet agencies, and other departments within the Obama Administration, asking them to account for “travel to political events connected to President Barack Obama’s campaign, as well as the Priorities USA Action super PAC supporting Obama’s reelection effort.”
Recipients of Issa’s letter, were given until July 26 to “detail any trips connected to their political activities and whether official or campaign funds were used to pay for transportation.”
Issa cited the “Speakers Series” of events, in which “high-ranking government officials, well known entertainers, accomplished corporate leaders, and senior White House advisors” met with supporters in exchange for contributions to the Obama campaign. Along with Cabinet officials assisting Super PAC fundraising, these events “appear to reflect an orchestrated attempt to use government officials for partisan fundraising purposes,” according to Rep. Issa.
By Politico’s count, “as of early June, a half-dozen Obama Cabinet members had been on more than 85 official trips this year to electoral battlegrounds such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.” That seems excessive, and rather carefully coordinated with the political needs of the Obama re-election campaign.
As Issa noted in his letter, the House Oversight Committee has jurisdiction over political activity by government officials under the Hatch Act. The restrictions imposed by this Act can be tricky to enforce, because high officials have considerable latitude to confuse political activities with their official duties, particularly when it comes to justifying travel expenses.
The White House dismissed Issa’s request for information as a partisan fishing expedition, insisting the Administration “complies with all of the rules and regulations governing campaign activity.” While the Obama campaign previously announced that Cabinet members would participate in fundraisers for the Obama-aligned Priorities USA Action super PAC, it appears none have actually made such appearances to date.