House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the White House's decision to re-establish a political office "raises serious concerns" about whether federal tax dollars would be spent to support Democratic candidates ahead of the midterm elections.
Last month, the White House announced it would reopen its political office, which was shuttered in 2011 ahead of President Obama's reelection campaign. White House aide David Simas was put in charge of the renamed Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, and the move was seen largely as a bid by the White House to centralize its political activities ahead of the 2014 midterms.
"Reestablishing [the Office of Political Affairs] raises serious concerns about the illegal use of taxpayer funds to support congressional campaigns during the 2014 midterm elections," Issa wrote, in a letter first obtained by Politico.
The political office has long been the subject of controversy.
In 2011, the Office of the Special Counsel released a report finding that officials in the Bush administration violated federal laws against political activities by working with the Republican National Committee to develop a "target list" of Republicans in tight congressional races, encouraging political appointees to appear at events with GOP candidates and tracking candidates' fundraising efforts.
"The rebranded version of OPA appears to be undertaking precisely the same political activities with which OSC found fault in its 2011 report," Issa wrote.
It's not the first time Issa has targeted the White House's political office. in 2011, he admitted to the Washington Times that an investigation into the filming of a campaign commercial at the White House was "theater" designed to embarrass the Obama team.
"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," Issa subsequently told USA Today.
The White House declined to comment about the letter.
But when the office was announced, a senior administration official stressed the new office would undertake "official functions under well-established standards" and simply coordinate "existing political strategy and outreach activities."
The aide said the group would work with political groups to evaluate levels of support for presidential policies, develop long-range strategies to achieve presidential priorities, and ensure officials were given appropriate legal guidance about participating in political activities.