Issa ratchets up scrutiny of WH political office

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Wednesday accused President Obama of not properly vetting the decision to reopen a controversial political affairs office at the White House.

Earlier this week, Issa asked the Office of the Special Counsel, an independent agency tasked with policing federal employees' political activities, whether the administration had contacted them before relaunching the office.

In a new letter Tuesday, the head of that agency informed Issa's office that the White House had not consulted them before moving forward.

ADVERTISEMENT
"After members on both sides of the aisle called for the Office of Political Affairs’ closure, the American people are entitled to know what steps President Obama took to address past concerns when he decided to restart an openly partisan political effort within the White House, funded by the American taxpayers," Issa said in a statement.

"If the White House did not even consult with the agency charged with protecting taxpayer dollars from inappropriate use in political campaigns, what did they do?"

The California Republican and White House antagonist has criticized the bid to reopen the office, which was closed in 2011 ahead of President Obama's reelection campaign.

Senior White House aide David Simas will lead the new iteration, which has been renamed the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach. The move is largely seen as a bid by the White House to centralize its political activities ahead of the midterm elections.

But Issa said re-establishing the office raised "serious concerns about the illegal use of taxpayer funds to support congressional campaigns during the 2014 midterm elections."

In his original letter to the Office of the Special Counsel, Issa noted that during the Bush administration, the agency found that officials in the White House violated federal laws prohibiting political activities.

Among the offenses during the Bush years were 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.

The White House has declined to comment on Issa's inquiry, but stressed when the office's reopening was announced that it would undertake "official functions under well-established standards" and simply coordinate "existing political strategy and outreach activities."

An administration 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.