Open The Hatch!

Elspeth Reeve at The Atlantic with the round-up

Josh Gerstein at Politico:

A long-running federal investigation has found that White House political aides to President George W. Bush engaged in widespread violations of a federal law which limits partisan political activity by government employees during the 2006 midterm elections.

A 118-page report issued Monday by the little-known Office of Special Counsel cites numerous violations of the Hatch Act by the Bush-era White House Office of Political Affairs. The report concludes that federal taxpayers footed the bill for improper activities that were intended to advance Republican political candidates.

“The entire [Office of Political Affairs] staff was enlisted in pursuit of Republican success at the polls and many OPA employees believed that effort was part of their official job duties,” the report concludes. “Based on the extent of the activities described below, OSC concludes that the political activities of OPA employees were not incidental to their official functions, and thus U.S. Treasury funds were unlawfully used to finance efforts to pursue Republican victories at the polls in 2006.”

Those efforts, according to the report, included assigning staffers to track “the amount of money raised at fundraisers held by Republican candidates and national, state and local Republican groups.”

Citing a “a systematic misuse of federal resources,” the report also points to Bush administration cabinet members who traveled to White House-targeted Congressional districts in what was called the “final push.” The inquiry found that although many of the trips were primarily political, they had been designated as official business, and the expenses were paid by the government.

Steve Benen:

There were, for example, several dozen mandatory briefings for federal employees — during work hours and in federal office buildings — in which White House officials instructed public employees on how they could help Republican campaign efforts. Bushies later described the briefings as “informational discussions,” but all available evidence suggests that’s a lie.

There were also the extensive travel expenses. In order to give the impression that vulnerable Republican lawmakers were important and powerful, the Bush White House arranged for cabinet secretaries to visit key campaign battlegrounds to give GOP candidates a public-relations boost. The law prohibits officials from using our money this way, and taxpayers were never reimbursed. When asked, Bushies said the trips were official government business. Like the rest of the defense, this wasn’t true, either.

And in case that wasn’t quite enough, Republican National Committee officials literally just moved their operations into the White House, to coordinate campaign efforts. This is illegal, too.

All of the transgressions were coordinated by the Bush/Cheney Office of Political Affairs, which was overseen by Karl Rove, and which is prohibited from using public funds for partisan political purposes.

In the Bush era, Rove’s operation seemed to do nothing but use our money for partisan political purposes.

If you’re wondering about the potential legal fallout of these revelations, the Office of Special Counsel, which released its report yesterday, said it no longer has any jurisdiction now that the Bush administration has left office. The Justice Department could conceivably pursue this, but it’s given no indication that it intends to do so.

The report comes just a few days after the Obama White House announced it would shutter its Office of Political Affairs altogether, so as to avoid any misuse of public funds.

Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) recent claim — he called President Obama’s team “one of the most corrupt administrations” in recent memory — is looking increasingly ridiculous all the time.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

As I said last decade, no one will be held accountable for the abuses described in the report. So forgive me for being underwhelmed by the release of the report that does no more than catalog what we already knew.

The report shows that under Bush, agency heads required agency political appointees  to attend briefings at which they’d get an overview (40-60% of the content) of the Republican prospects for the next election.It described how these briefings explained the importance of the Republican 72-hour plan to get out turnout. And it described how at least some agencies tracked the participation of employees in GOTV activities.

One Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff at the Peace Corps testified that she maintained a spreadsheet showing the agency’s political appointees and when and where they were deploying to be campaign volunteers. The witness explained that OPA wanted to know the level of participation by political appointees as a group, and that she believed OPA expected all appointees to volunteer. She also understood that supervisors were expected to permit political appointees to take leave so they could “go off and do 72-hour campaigns.”

The most interesting finding of the report–though again, we knew this–is that the Office of Public Affairs became a mere extension of the RNC leading up to the 2006 election.

Specifically, OSC’s investigation revealed that OPA was essentially an extension of the RNC in the White House. Thus, OPA:

  • Worked with the RNC to develop a “target list” consisting of those Republican candidates involved in close races.
  • Encouraged high-level agency political appointees to attend events with targeted Republican candidates in order to attract positive media attention to their campaigns, a practice called “asset deployment.”
  • Utilized the services of several RNC Desk Coordinators – who worked inside the White House – to help coordinate high-level political appointees’ travel to both political and official events with Republican candidates.
  • Kept track of Republican candidates’ fundraising efforts as well as high-level agency political appointees’ attendance at events with targeted candidates.
  • Encouraged political appointees, on behalf of the RNC, to participate in 72-hour deployment efforts.

As explained below, OSC has concluded that all of these activities constituted “political activity” because they were directed at the electoral success of Republican candidates and the Republican Party as a whole. These activities took place in federal buildings and during normal business hours in violation of the Hatch Act. And although the OPA Director and Deputy Director, at whose direction these activities occurred, were exempt from the Hatch Act’s prohibition against engaging in political activity while on duty or in a federal workplace, the regulations require that the costs associated with the political activity of exempt employees be reimbursed to the U.S. Treasury when the activity is more than incidental. Here, the entire OPA staff was enlisted in pursuit of Republican success at the polls and many OPA employees believed that effort was part of their official job duties. Based on the extent of the activities described below, OSC concludes that the political activities of OPA employees were not incidental to their official functions, and thus U.S. Treasury funds were unlawfully used to finance efforts to pursue Republican victories at the polls in 2006.[my emphasis]

In short, taxpayers paid for a big chunk of the Republican 2006 campaign.

Hey! That was the campaign where we took back both houses and Rove’s math was proven to be faulty, right? Suckers!!

Doug Mataconis:

Even if there aren’t criminal prosecutions, it would seem clear that the RNC, the NRCC, the NRSC, or the individual campaigns should reimburse the Federal Government for the costs the taxpayers paid that they shouldn’t have.

Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice:

Where will this story go? It’s uncertain.

GOPers will likely not mention it or find a way to try and downplay or discredit it. Some Democrats may not press it too aggressively since it does refer to an administration out of power and some Dems may have aspirations to cut the same corners in the future.

On the other hand, there could be some big surprise and it could lead to some repercussions or reforms.

Wonkette:

American taxpayers (China) paid for Bush administration officials to conduct political campaign activities for the 2006 midterm elections, which violated federal law and is information that, perhaps, we could have used somewhat earlier than a half decade after the fact. This is not surprising, nor is it surprising Karl Rove directed this stuff. What’s really awful is the sheer incompetence of the federal officials using these taxpayer funds, seeing as the 2006 midterms were a total blowout for the GOP. If you’re going to spend our money on elections, at least win some of them. So, are any of these Bush people going to be prosecuted for breaking the law? LOL.

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