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Topics: House Oversight

Rep. Darrell Issa subpoenas White House over political office

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Politics,White House,Congress,Barack Obama,Darrell Issa,Campaigns,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Air Force One,DNC,House Oversight,Office of Special Counsel,Subpoena,Hilda Solis

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Friday evening subpoenaed documents related to the reopening of the White House political office, an operation focused on President Obama’s campaign strategy.

Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, addressed the subpoena to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and demanded, among other information, all documents referring to or relating to the opening of the political office.

Issa has been looking into the White House’s political activity out of concern that it violates the Hatch Act, which restricts many fundraising activities on federal property. He previously subpoenaed David Simas, the office’s director.

In 2011, the Office of Special Counsel found that the Bush administration violated federal laws by using a similar office, run by Karl Rove, to coordinate trips by Cabinet officials with Democratic lawmakers in tough races. That finding came years after Bush already left office.

Obama had a political office during his first two years in the White House, but shut it down in early 2011, ahead of the release of the report finding Bush’s version violated the Hatch Act.

When the president reopened the office earlier this year, he said it exists to “provide the president with information about the current political environment and political issues nationwide,” which the Office of Special Counsel said was legal.

In his Friday request, Rep. Issa also asked for information relating to Obama’s June 26-27 trip to Minnesota, as well as his trip to Colorado July 8-9. He specifically asked for documents and communications related to the decision to add official events to Obama’s itinerary.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the latest subpoena from Issa.

In late July, the Washington Examiner reported on how Obama had continued the practice of previous presidents over the last three decades to add official speeches and events to fundraising trips in order to save the Democratic National Committee and other party arms money.

While Obama can rely on Air Force One and other military aircraft at his disposal for official business, federal election laws require that the DNC or individual campaigns pay for these presidential perquisites at a fraction of the costs — the equivalent of a commercial airline ticket — whenever he or other administration officials use those federal resources for political activity.

Like many of his predecessors, Obama tends to piggyback official events onto fundraising trips, further diminishing the costs the DNC must repay the U.S. Treasury. Figuring out the details of just how much they must reimburse taxpayers for the mixed trips is complicated and opaque, confounding even the most experienced federal election law experts, the Examiner found.

In mid-July, Issa released information about 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.

The Solis voicemail message from March 2012 asked the person to contribute to Obama's re-election campaign, Organizing for America, at a restaurant that Friday.

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.

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