As expected, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney fielded tough questions at his press briefing Tuesday on the big three ongoing Obama scandals: the false Benghazi talking points, the AP phone record seizure and the IRS audits of administration critics.
All three scandals still have plenty of unanswered questions, but it is possible that the most damaging Obama administration story was not mentioned at all: Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ shakedown of health care firms for Obamacare implementation money.
The Washington Post‘s Sarah Kliff broke the story Friday:
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has gone, hat in hand, to health industry officials, asking them to make large financial donations to help with the effort to implement President Obama’s landmark health-care law, two people familiar with the outreach said.
Federal regulations do not allow department officials to fundraise in their professional capacity. They do, however, allow Cabinet members to solicit donations as private citizens “if you do not solicit funds from a subordinate or from someone who has or seeks business with the Department, and you do not use your official title,” according to Justice Department regulations.
HHS spokesman Jason Young added that a special section in the Public Health Service Act allows the secretary to support and encourage others to support nonprofit groups working to provide health information and conduct other public-health activities.
Notice that the Obama administration has already contradicted themselves while trying to spin the Post. On the one hand, Sebelius’ solicitations are OK if they are done in a private capacity with someone who does not have business with the department. But then they also claim Sebelius, acting as secretary, can solicit funds for nonprofits “working to provide health information and conduct other public-health activities.” Both excuses cannot be valid at the same time.
Just how big were the donations Sebelius was soliciting? The New York Times reported Sunday:
Jason Young, a spokesman for Ms. Sebelius, said she had suggested that health care executives and others support the work of Enroll America, a private nonprofit group that shares the president’s goal of securing coverage for people without insurance. Several people who received solicitations said that current and former administration officials had suggested seven-figure donations. An insurance executive said that some insurers had been asked for $1 million donations, and that “bigger companies have been asked for a lot more.”
All of this activity is clearly illegal. Title 5 Section 2635.101 of the Code of Federal Regulations clearly states:
(b) General principles. The following general principles apply to every employee and may form the basis for the standards contained in this part. Where a situation is not covered by the standards set forth in this part, employees shall apply the principles set forth in this section in determining whether their conduct is proper.
(4) An employee shall not, except as permitted by subpart B of this part, solicit or accept any gift or other item of monetary value from any person or entity seeking official action from, doing business with, or conducting activities regulated by the employee’s agency, or whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee’s duties.
(14) Employees shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating the law or the ethical standards set forth in this part. Whether particular circumstances create an appearance that the law or these standards have been violated shall be determined from the perspective of a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts.
Obamacare gave Sebelius unprecedented control over the health care industry. From setting rates to defining coverage plans, there is no niche of the health care sector that Sebelius does not hold the power to make or break any single company. If she picks up the phone and calls any health company executive, even just to ask about the weather, her call will be returned promptly.
You can read the exceptions for subpart B, mentioned above, here. None apply. It is hard to see how Sebelius’ solicitations could possibly be legal.