Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is highlighting a fundraising phone call former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis made to a department employee as evidence that the Obama administration has a history of illegal fundraising activities.
During a Wednesday Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, Issa played a recording of a voicemail message from March 2012 that he said Solis left on the phone of a Labor Department subordinate asking the person to contribute to Obama's re-election campaign, Organizing for America, at a restaurant that Friday.
“Hi, this is Hilda Solis calling, um, just calling you off the record here. Wanted to ask you if you could, um, help us get folks organized to come to a fundraiser that we're doing for Organizing for America for Obama campaign on Friday at La Fonda at 6 p.m.,” she says on the recording.
“... There are a lot of folks that we know that are coming but wanted to ask you if you might help contribute or get other folks to help out,” she said. “I would encourage you to call this number, [inaudible] -- that's his assistant -- at [phone number] and you can call [the attorney] yourself who's a good friend, an attorney, good friend of mine, at [phone number]. And it's for a Friday event at La Fonda [inaudible] we're just trying to raise money to show that we have support here in [inaudible]."
Allegations that Solis, currently a candidate for Los Angeles County supervisor, solicited subordinates to raise money for Obama's re-election campaign was the focus of a criminal probe.
A complaint sent to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that investigates allegations of administrative violations of fundraising rules by federal officials, triggered an inquiry. It alleged that Solis left a voicemail message on a subordinate employee's government-issued Blackberry in which she asked the employee to contribute toward and assist with organizing others to attend a fundraiser for Obama's re-election campaign.
The Hatch Act prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the president, vice president and other high-level officials, from engaging in partisan political activity, and specifically bars employees below the policy-making level in the executive branch from engaging in “any active part” in political campaigns.
While Solis would be exempt from the Act, her subordinates most likely would not be.
Solis abruptly resigned her Labor Department post in early 2013. She left Washington with $50,000 to $100,000 in legal debts, according to her final personal financial disclosure form, which she was required to file upon resigning her post.
She listed the debt, which amounted to 25 to 50 percent of her gross annual salary of $199,700, as “legal services" to Sidley Austin, a top white-collar law firm located in downtown D.C.
Issa, as chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is looking into the Obama's administration's taxpayer-funded political campaign activity. Last week Issa subpoenaed David Simas, the director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, to testify before the committee.
The White House Tuesday night said Simas didn't have to comply because his activity is legal and “the committee has been unable to point to any indication that [he or his office] has violated the Hatch Act.”
After playing the recording, Issa recessed the panel to “assess its course of action in regard to Mr. Simas' refusal to appear,” a panel spokesman said in a statement.
In his opening statement, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and the ranking member on the Oversight committee, said Simas should not be compelled to testify.
“Mr. Simas is a senior adviser to the president. And everyone on this committee knows the doctrine of separation of powers,” he said. “We do not simply haul in one of the President's top advisers at will. There must be a valid reason, a predicate, a justification, some evidence that this official engaged in some type of inappropriate activity.”
Cummings says Issa recessed the hearing because during his opening statement Cummings played his own video of Issa pledging, during the panel's first organizational meeting in 2011, to hold votes on controversial subpoenas.
During Wednesday's hearing the committee was scheduled to hear from Carolyn Lerner, the director of the Office of Special Counsel, which is charged with enforcing the federal Hatch Act.
In written testimony ahead of her appearance, Lerner said she had identified no inappropriate activity by the White House office.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest would not comment on Solis' voicemail, citing an ongoing law enforcement investigation.
He also would not say whether the White House plans to exert executive privilege in refusing to allow Simas to testify, arguing instead that Issa has undermined the committee's credibility by issuing so many subpoenas.
Earnest accused Issa of "throwing out subpoenas like candy on Halloween" and said the practice has "caused people to tune the committee out."