Sebelius: I could raise money from companies that HHS regulates

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday defended fundraising calls she has made on behalf of a group promoting President Obama's healthcare law.

Sebelius also said she does not believe federal law would prevent her from raising money from entities her department regulates. She has avoided making those pitches on her own, she said.

Republicans have sharply criticized Sebelius's fundraising on behalf of Enroll America, an outside group that will encourage people to enroll in ObamaCare's new coverage options.

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They have said it would be inappropriate, and potentially illegal, for Sebelius to raise money directly from entities that HHS regulates.

Sebelius rejected that view Tuesday.

"I could legally solicit funds from anybody regulated by our office. I chose not to do that," she told lawmakers on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Sebelius said she has directly asked two groups — the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and H&R Block — to donate to Enroll America. 

But she has made a broader pitch to other organizations on Enroll America's behalf. Sebelius said she has personally called three other entities — all of them regulated by HHS — to describe Enroll America, but did not directly ask for money.

"I have certainly promoted the partnership role Enroll America will play," Sebelius said.

She cited the Bush administration's work to promote Medicare's prescription drug benefit when it took effect in 2006. Two HHS secretaries under former President George W. Bush raised money and actively promoted outside organizations that helped promote the new benefit, she said.

Federal law also explicitly allows the HHS secretary to promote partnerships and raise money for programs designed to improve access to healthcare.

But Republican critics point to separate laws they say would make it illegal to raise money from entities that HHS regulates. They say it's at least inappropriate to pressure companies that HHS regulates.

Democrats on the committee continued to defend Sebelius's fundraising on Tuesday.

"I hope the accusation turns out to be true," Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) said.