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Policy: Labor

Thomas Perez allies dictated Maryland Chamber's endorsement letter

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Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., had a message for all those who thought that Thomas Perez, President Obama's labor secretary nominee, was a radical: How could that be if the Maryland Chamber of Commerce has also endorsed him?

"They now have a letter in record. The Maryland Chamber of Commerce is recommending Tom to be the secretary of labor," she said at an April Senate hearing. "Why? Because he listens. He learns. He brings everyone to the table."

The letter was supposedly based on the chamber's work with Perez when he was head of Maryland's Labor, Licensing and Regulation Department.

What Mikulski didn't say -- what she may not have even known -- was that the letter wasn't a spontaneous show of support. Scott Jensen, assistant secretary for Maryland DLLR, had actually dictated it.

The letter was part of an extensive behind-the-scenes effort by Perez's allies to get state business groups to endorse him.

Jensen, a former special assistant to Perez, had told the Maryland chamber exactly what to say in a March email. President Kathleen Snyder, eager to do a favor for the department that regulates her members, used Jensen's proposed draft almost word-for-word.

Both Jensen and Snyder denied to the Washington Examiner there was any quid pro quo involved, and the emails do not mention one. But one can only imagine the uproar that would result if the same situation happened with a Republican nominee.

The free-market group Americans for Limited Government discovered the emails after making a public records request. They show the nominee, a close friend of Jensen, was kept in the loop and assisted when he could.

For example, they show how an April 2 op-ed in The Hill, "Perez has the track record to lead the Labor Department," was initially written by Eric Seleznow, state policy director of the National Skills Coalition, a nonprofit business and labor coalition group, and Dori Henry, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Seleznow sent it to Jensen and they eventually got William Robertson, president of Rockville's Adventist HealthCare, and Ronald Peterson, president of Johns Hopkins, to sign it.

Perez was involved in placing the op-ed. "My first target would then be the Wash (sic) Post, and then I would move to Hill papers if thaI (sic) falls," Perez emailed Jensen.

One intermediary was Robert Raben, a well-connected liberal lobbyist whose clients include Jobs With Justice, an organized labor and immigrant advocacy coalition group.

When a Roll Call editor asked Raben if the op-ed could include a "congressional angle," he forwarded the email to Perez, who suggested they add a section about how he brings "an important state and local perspective" to the Workforce Investment Act. This became the basis of The Hill op-ed's second paragraph.

The same group was trying to build support among national groups. In March, Seleznow suggested Perez come schmooze at a meet-and-greet at his Capitol Hill home.

"I would invite about 25 workforce policy and advocacy folks from DC metro ... these folks are the DC workforce mafia who try to influence workforce policy here In D.C.," Seleznow said. Perez replied that it was an "interesting idea."

Jensen organized the overall effort using his official DLLR email account -- he told the Examiner he doesn't have a private one -- and often while on regular business hours. Meaning Maryland taxpayers were essentially underwriting it.

State law is not clear on the legality of using a state office to lobby on behalf of a nominee for federal office. Section 15-506 of the Maryland Public Ethics Law prohibits officials from using the "prestige of one's office for one's private gain or that of another."

Regardless of the legality, senators considering Perez's nomination should know that his support from Maryland business groups comes from people doing favors for Perez's friend, who just happens to be a top state business regulator.

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Author:

Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner