Obama hits panic button, sends THIS guy to rescue vulnerable Senate Democrats

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If you were looking for Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz this week, you might want to consult the 2014 electoral map of endangered Democrats as a guide.

Mr. Moniz toured Louisiana’s Gulf Coast oil and gas operations to assure the industry the administration supported its growth even as the president rolls out his climate change agenda. At his side was Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, one of the most vulnerable incumbents in this fall’s election.


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Mr. Moniz followed up Thursday by announcing the loosening of regulations governing exports of liquefied natural gas, one of the pet issues of Ms. Landrieu and another vulnerable energy-state Democrat, Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska.

And on Friday, the nation’s energy chief heads to Colorado, where he’ll appear with yet another endangered Democrat, Sen. Mark Udall.

Mr. Moniz’s schedule is just one sign of the Obama administration’s concerted effort to use the levers of government to prop up its chances of keeping a Democrat-controlled Senate in November.

Former Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was cited by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel for violating the Hatch Act during the 2012 election after giving a partisan speech on an official government trip. She was ordered to refund the cost of airfare.

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Former Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was cited ... more >

From grants to visits, even the declaration of a new national monument, the Obama administration has flexed its muscle — and opened the purse strings — in recent weeks to help its party incumbents in what is shaping up to be a tough re-election battle for Democrats.

It’s an age-old practice for the administration in power to use its control of government to help its electoral chances, even though federal laws like the Hatch Act prohibit the direct expenditure of federal monies on campaign activities.

When George W. Bush was president, internal emails surfaced showing his chief political adviser, Karl Rove, orchestrated a detailed plan to use federal resources and Cabinet officers to help GOP candidates.


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Likewise, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was cited by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel for violating the Hatch Act during the 2012 election after giving a partisan speech on an official government trip. She was ordered to refund the government for the cost of her airfare.

And Congress has investigated President Obama’s White House political affairs office recently for straying too far into electoral politics on the taxpayer’s dime. The president temporarily disbanded the office but recently restored it to action, to the dismay of some GOP lawmakers.

The gray area that both parties have exploited for years is the strategic targeting of official announcements and grants to cities and states where members of their party can benefit from the high-profile announcement just as elections are approaching.

While certain officials such as the secretaries of state and defense are legally restricted from campaign activity, other high-profile Cabinet members have the ability to help out candidates in need.

“The secretaries of labor, energy, HHS, etc. have the ability to appear in political contexts, but they also have the power to ensure that money goes to the right places and the ability to make sure the announcements come at the right time,” said John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies with the Brookings Institution.

Mr. Hudak is the author of “Presidential Pork,” a book that examines presidential efforts to control federal spending and accumulate electoral rewards from that power.

Other experts argue it’s almost impossible for a Cabinet secretary to completely avoid any activity that creates a political appearance.

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About the Author
Kellan Howell

Kellan Howell

Kellan Howell, an investigative reporter for The Washington Times, covers campaign finance and government accountability. Originally from Williamsburg, Va., Kellan graduated from James Madison University where she received bachelor’s degrees in media arts and design and international affairs with a concentration in western European politics.

During her time at JMU, she interned for British technology and business news website “ITPro” ...

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