|George W. Bush and Karl Rove|
The George W. Bush administration violated federal law by using the White House for partisan political activities, according to The Dallas Morning News. This news brings several obvious questions to mind about the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.
A new report from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) says the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA) engaged in widespread violations of the Hatch Act, writes Morning News reporter Wayne Slater. The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activities. But the OPA, under former White House strategist Karl Rove, apparently violated the law at will.
Using taxpayer dollars to support Republican Party candidates was a common activity in the Bush White House. Reports Slater:
A 118-page report issued today by the Office of Special Counsel cites widespread violations of the Hatch Act by staffers of the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA) during the 2006 midterm elections. The act limits partisan political activity by government employees. The report outlines how the White House held briefings for political appointees at various agencies--often on public time and at the agencies themselves--to organize campaign activities, tracked money raised at fundraisers and misused taxpayer dollars to send cabinet members to congressional districts where the White House wanted to win elections. The office was headed variously during the Bush years by Ken Mehlman and others--but Rove was the kingpin over all things political in the Bush White House.
The full OSC report can be reviewed through the press release at the link below:
OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL ISSUES HATCH ACT REPORT
CONCERNING POLITICAL ACTIVITY IN THE WHITE HOUSE
OFFICE OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS AND FEDERAL AGENCIES IN 2006
How gross was the politicking in the Bush administration? Slater cites an example from the report:
While at some agencies political appointees were encouraged to attend political briefings given by OPA staff, at other agencies, attendance at briefings was mandatory. For example, the White House liaison at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) extended an invitation to the political appointees and stated: "This meeting is mandatory. It will essentially be the same large meeting that we had last year about this time. So, please clear your schedule, put your pom-poms on, and let's go!!!"
Here's another example that will test your gag reflex:
In 2006, the partisan political activity of OPA staff was not incidental to the functions of the office. Instead, the OPA Director and Deputy Director focused the time and energy of OPA staff to help advance the Republican Party's electoral prospects, thereby transforming the office into a setting akin to a political boiler room. Because bolstering candidates' campaign efforts and helping advance a political party's electoral prospects is not something that the government would have paid for otherwise, U.S. Treasury funds should not have been used to pay for this political activity. Using U.S. Treasury funds to finance such activity, including employees' salaries, violated the Hatch Act.
What does this mean for the Siegelman case? The answer is not clear, but we do know this: Rove often has maintained that, while in the White House, he was too busy on national and international issues, to worry about activities in the states. Rove's argument essentially was, "Hey, the Siegelman matter was beneath me." This new report, however, indicates that such matters definitely were not beneath Rove and his associates. In fact, it shows that electoral matters in the states were front and center in the Bush White House.
The OSC report focuses primarily on efforts in the White House to boost Republican candidates. And that raises these questions: Did the White House also engage in efforts to trash Democratic opponents, such as Siegelman? Did these efforts include launching bogus, politically driven prosecutions?
What will become of this story? It broke yesterday and appears to be in the developmental stage. It's unclear if it will gain much national traction. At this point, the report seems to raise more questions than it answers. After all, few people will be surprised to learn that Rove helped turn the White House into a political machine.
Are there any penalties that former Bush officials might face? That seems unlikely. The No. 1 penalty for an official violating the Hatch Act is removal from office. But almost all of the guilty parties already are out of office. Here is a statement from a 2006 OSC press release about a public official in New Jersey who had violated the Hatch Act but already was out of office. He was required to not seek public office or government employment with the State of New Jersey for 18 months:
The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state, county, or municipal executive agencies who have duties in connection with programs financed in whole or part by federal loans or grants. A covered employee may not use his official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election, or coerce or attempt to coerce covered employees to contribute anything of value to a person for political purposes. The penalty for a proven violation of the Act by a state or local employee is removal of the employee from his/her position by the state/local agency and debarment from state/local employment for the following 18 months or if removal is not effectuated, forfeiture of federal grant funds by the state/local agency in an amount equal to two years of the salary of the employee in addition to the 18-month debarment.
It's hard to imagine Karl Rove being terrified by such possible penalties--if they would even apply to him at this point. Rove was being investigated for possible Hatch Act violations as far back as April 2007. But the OSC is just now getting around to reporting that Rove did, indeed, violate the law.
Moral of the story? Feel free to violate the Hatch Act with impunity, and as long as it's covered up while you are in office, you can skate home free.