Will you hear this story discussed much on many conservative radio and cable talk shows? In the way our political discussion works, don’t hold your breath to hear much about this — which does not seem to be a small matter:
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.
The long-awaited report was released just a few days after the Obama White House announced that it plans to shutter its administration’s Office of Political Affairs and move some of the staffers there to the payrolls of the Democratic National Committee and a still-to-be-formed presidential re-election committee in Chicago.
The abuses occurred mostly in 2005 and 2006, when Bush advisers were anxious about the looming midterm elections that would hand control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats.
According to the report, the White House improperly orchestrated the use of assets throughout the government to help key congressional allies as the voting drew near, including arranging more than 100 ostensibly official appearances by top appointees in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Connecticut.
A report released on Monday night by the independent Office of Special Counsel found that the Bush administration flew top officials to hundreds of campaign events in government airplanes and even moved political operatives into the White House in 2006 to plan midterm battle strategy. In addition, the White House insisted that top officials attend regular election pep talks from 2001 to 2007 when they should have been doing the people’s business. These activities flagrantly violate the 1939 Hatch Act, which was created to stop federal workers from using federal money or official time to electioneer. The reports says government documents occasionally mentioned the need to reimburse taxpayers for shuttling key officials to battleground state events. There is no evidence that the Bush administration actually endeavored to do so, however.
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.
But don’t hold your breath..
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.