Oversight Hearing to Examine Campaign, Fund-Raising Role of White House Political Office

July 11, 2014

Committee Announces Subpoena of Director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach David Simas after refusal to testify voluntarily

WASHINGTON – House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., today announced a hearing on Wednesday, July 16th to examine the White House Office of Political Affairs (also known as the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach).  The hearing, titled, “White House Office of Political Affairs: Is Supporting Candidates and Campaign Fund-Raising an Appropriate Use of a Government Office?” will feature current and former White House staff as well as U.S. Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, who the leads the agency responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act.  The Hatch Act limits certain political activities of federal employees to ensure that official government business is separate from partisan political activity.

“In an effort to appease its political allies, the Obama Administration broadcast its intention to re-open a political office within the White House to assist in partisan election efforts and fundraising,” said Chairman Issa.  “This follows a serious pattern of behavior at the highest levels of the Administration.  Former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, both members of President Obama’s cabinet, were faulted by the Office of Special Counsel for inappropriately using their offices in violation of the Hatch Act.  This hearing will examine abuses of taxpayer funds for political gain and the level of White House commitment to preventing them.”  

In January 2014, the White House announced the reopening of the Office of Political Affairs (OPA) under a new name, heightening concerns about the Administration’s compliance with the Hatch Act.  The reopened OPA will reportedly focus on the needs of Democratic candidates, including fundraising.  President Obama closed OPA in 2011, just days before the U.S. Office of Special Counsel issued a report that found the basic structure of OPA violated federal law, and that the political activities of OPA staff amounted to misuse of taxpayer funds.

Scott Coffina, a former Associate Counsel to the President during the Bush Administration, and Carolyn Lerner, U.S. Special Counsel, have confirmed that they will testify next week.  David Simas, Director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, will testify under subpoena after declining the Committee’s July 3rd invitation.

Timeline of White House Office of Political Affairs

·         2007: The U.S. Office of Special Counsel begins investigating the George W. Bush White House Office of Political Affairs.

·         October 2008: After interviewing 20 political appointees and receiving nearly 70,000 documents, Committee Chairman Henry Waxman releases a staff report one month before the election finding that “American taxpayers should not pay the salaries of White House officials when they are engaged in helping members of the President’s political party.”  The Waxman report recommends the elimination of the White House Office of Political Affairs. [The Waxman Report].

·         January 2011: President Obama closes the Office of Political Affairs.  Only days later, OSC issues a report finding that “OPA employees should avoid engaging in political activities to prevent it from transforming from an official government office into a partisan political operation.”  The report quotes a Hatch Act expert, who states, “there is a powerful argument that having an Office of Political Affairs that is active in political campaigns is not necessary or even a desirable component of the political advisory function in the White House.” [OSC Report]

·         January 2014: The White House announces reinstatement of OPA, for the purpose of “defending Democratic control of the Senate and taking back the House from Republicans” and to “focus attention on candidate needs, including fund-raising.” [N.Y. Times]

·         February 10, 2014: The Committee writes to OSC requesting communications between the White House and OSC regarding the reopening of OPA. [Letter attached]

·         February 11, 2014: According to a letter from Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner to the Committee, the White House did not consult with OSC before reopening OPA. [Letter attached]

·         March 18, 2014: The Committee writes to the White House requesting all documents related to the reopening of OPA. [Letter attached]

·         March 26, 2014: White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler writes to the Committee.  According to the letter, the White House Counsel’s Office is in “regular contact with OSC,” and has obtained the latest guidance on Hatch Act compliance from OSC.  The White House fails to produce any of the requesteddocuments. [Letter attached]

·         May 27, 2014: The Committee writes to the White House again requesting documents related to the reopening of OPA. [Letter attached]

·         June 13, 2014: White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston writes to the Committee, explaining the role of the new White House political office. The White House again fails to produce any documents. [Letter attached]

Hearing Details:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

White House Office of Political Affairs: Is Supporting Candidates and Campaign Fund-Raising an Appropriate Use of a Government Office?

Full Committee, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA)

10:00 a.m. in Rayburn 2154 and streaming at oversight.house.gov.

Witnesses

Mr. Scott Coffina

Partner

Drinker, Biddle & Reath, LLP

The Honorable Carolyn Lerner

U.S. Office of Special Counsel

Mr. David Simas

Director

Office of Political Strategy and Outreach

The White House

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