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House panel to probe DNC’s Obama ad

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 25, 2011

A campaign video filmed inside the White House starring President Obama and a meeting organized for party donors there will be the subject of congressional hearings in the near future, the House of Representative's top investigator said.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa said his panel will hold hearings on whether the Democratic National Committee violated election law by producing the Obama video and organizing the donors' gathering.

"Both of those now become ripe" for hearings, the California Republican told editors and reporters of The Washington Times on Monday. He criticized "the president's hubris of having the DNC doing the video and offering basically a dinner with a government-employee chef."

Mr. Obama filmed the campaign ad in the White House Map Room, offering supporters dinner with himself and Vice President Joseph R. Biden at the White House. The DNC also organized a meeting of campaign donors at the White House on March 7, ostensibly so corporate leaders could discuss the economy with the president.

"We've looked at the background of these donors," Mr. Issa said. "If nothing else, the DNC got these people a meeting with the president." His committee sent a letter to the president's top lawyer July 12 asking for fundraising documents.

The Republican National Committee last week asked the Justice Department to investigate the filming of the campaign video, arguing that it violated federal law that prohibits the use of government buildings for campaign operations. Justice Department officials have not responded to the RNC's letter.

The White House contends that the Map Room is part of the private residence and therefore not subject to the restrictions.

Said Mr. Issa, "I look forward to their giving us that justification before the committee."

The Map Room also is used for official functions, such as meetings with dignitaries.

The White House said nothing about the video or the meeting was improper.

"As we have said in the past, this was wholly appropriate and routinely done in past administrations, as evidenced by an abundance of examples spanning the past three decades," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz. "In fact, experts and lawyers have said publicly that all of what this administration is doing is aboveboard."

Other presidents, including Republicans Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, have used the White House as a backdrop in campaign ads. Those ads typically didn't solicit donations. Mr. Obama didn't ask for money in his pitch, either, although his campaign encouraged supporters to donate at least $5 to participate in the dinner raffle.

In the interview with The Times, Mr. Issa acknowledged that his committee's role in enforcing campaign law is limited.

"At the end of the day, the president's not going to be impeached over either of those two offenses," Mr. Issa said. But he said he would seek to hold the president's team accountable "by White House people testifying."

He likened his investigation to a probe conducted by the committee's previous chair, Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat, who investigated the use of RNC e-mail accounts by 88 White House officials under Mr. Bush.

"It'll be good theater," Mr. Issa said. "The Democrats will make the claim that somehow we were wrong. And we'll remind them that this isn't much different than what Waxman looked at. And then it will end. The sad truth is, the most we can do on our committee is the equivalent of a pitcher who gets tired of a batter crowding the plate. Our hearings can maybe brush him [the president] back a little."

Mr. Issa took over the committee this year while calling the Obama administration "one of the most corrupt" in history. He has since backed off that comment, although Mr. Issa contends the administration routinely abuses its power to favor the president's allies, such as labor unions.

In the interview, he cited the National Labor Relations Board suing aerospace giant Boeing over the opening of its $750 million nonunion airline assembly plant in South Carolina. The NLRB said Boeing made the move to punish unions in its manufacturing base in Washington state.

"The NLRB has gotten in the middle of this simply to defend the union movement," Mr. Issa said. "There's no other basis for it. That independent agency is clearly not acting independent. They're acting at the behest of the administration."

The White House has said it played no role in the NLRB's decision.

Another priority on Mr. Issa's agenda is restructuring the Postal Service, which is on target to lose about $8.5 billion this year. He has introduced legislation that would eliminate Saturday delivery and give the Postal Service more flexibility to close facilities. An oversight panel would be created to reduce costs make the agency profitable again.

Mr. Issa called the Postal Service "the best example, in a miniature way, of our federal government."

"If you don't have the guts to say that 175,000 people fully eligible for retirement should retire, then you're not going to make the other hard decisions when the time comes in Washington," Mr. Issa said.

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