Issa questions Obama’s right to reopen ‘political shop’

The White House might be using taxpayer money improperly to help Democratic candidates

Rep. Darrell Issa

Rep. Darrell Issa

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has asked the White House to turn over records related to President Barack Obama’s decision to reopen the White House political office earlier this year.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said he is concerned that the White House might be using taxpayer money improperly to help Democratic candidates for Congress and other offices.

In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Issa asked for “all documents and communications, including emails” about the January reopening of the political office, as well an update on its activities since then.

“The Hatch Act requires a clear dichotomy between the constitutional and statutory duties of federal officials and any political or campaign-related activities in which they engage,” Issa wrote, referring to a federal law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in some partisan political activities.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Wednesday that the political office coordinates political strategy and outreach and serves as a contact point for national, state and local Democrats.

Administrations of both parties have maintained in-house political shops at the White House. A 2011 report by the independent Office of Special Counsel criticized a longstanding practice by both parties of using the political office for systematic, campaign-related activity.

As Obama’s re-election campaign was ramping up in 2011, Obama closed the political office and shifted his political operation to Chicago. Since the 2012 election, a handful of top White House aides had been dealing with political matters on an ad hoc basis before the political office was reopened in January. The six-person team, led by David Simas, provides real-time communication between the White House and myriad political groups working to elect Democrats this year.

“This White House recognized the need for a consolidated office to provide the president political information,” Schultz said, adding that the Office of Special Counsel has described such activity as appropriate.
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