- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The House Republicans’ top investigator told President Obama on Tuesday to punish Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for illegally campaigning on the job earlier this year, saying the White House has issued harsh penalties to others caught doing the same thing.

“Although you have yet to take any action, I hope you take seriously Secretary Sebelius‘ violation,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell E. Issa wrote to Mr. Obama, in a letter obtained by The Washington Times. “Secretary Sebelius must set the example for federal employees even as she continues to appear at campaign events on your behalf during this election cycle.”

Last month the office of special council issued a finding that Mrs. Sebelius broke a law when she told an audience that re-electing Mr. Obama was “hugely important” while on an official business trip.

The law, known as the Hatch Act, prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity in their official capacity.

Mr. Issa said federal employees are typically fired or at least docked pay for violating the Hatch Act.

In this instance, though, the Obama White House has defended Mrs. Sebelius, saying she made an “inadvertent error” and has atoned by reclassifying the trip as political in nature and paying for it herself.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz reiterated that position Tuesday, pointing to initial comments made by press secretary Jay Carney, who said Mrs. Sebelius has responded sufficiently.

But Mr. Issa said Mrs. Sebelius‘ repayment doesn’t exonerate her of wrongdoing.

He pointed to several cases during the past two years in which federal employees have been suspended without pay or dismissed for mixing politics with official business.

In one case, a technology specialist for the Social Security Administration coordinated volunteer activities for a gubernatorial candidate from his office, recruiting precinct captains, enlisting people to march in parades and organizing the distribution of yard signs and bumper stickers. He was suspended for six months.

In another case, a contracting officer for the General Services Administration served a 30-day suspension for inviting two dozen people to an Obama fundraiser while she was on duty, along with distributing Obama campaign material in the workplace and sending an email from her government account about supporting him.

And an employee with the Department of Veterans Affairs lost his job when he emailed an invitation to a presidential campaign fundraiser to co-workers while at work and forwarded a fundraising email from the Arizona state treasurer to a colleague.

Mr. Issa said the federal government’s ability to punish future violators will be undermined if the administration lets Mrs. Sebelius off the hook.

“The Hatch Act will be rendered meaningless if Cabinet officials can campaign while on ‘official business’ then retroactively reclassify events as ‘political,’” he wrote. “If you do not hold her accountable for her actions, you risk setting a precedent that allows Cabinet officials to violate the Hatch Act with no consequences.”

Mrs. Sebelius prompted the investigation when she told attendees at a Human Rights Campaign gala in North Carolina that re-electing Mr. Obama was “hugely important.” Investigators concluded last month that she had violated the Hatch Act but found no other evidence of similar wrongdoing.

Since then, Mrs. Sebelius has been campaigning for Mr. Obama in competitive states like Wisconsin and New Hampshire, but her staff has been careful to clarify that it’s all with her personal time and money.

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