Officials in the Bush administration systematically broke election laws by using a political office inside the White House for campaign purposes, a federal investigation has found.
In a report (PDF) released Monday, the Office of Special Counsel said staffers in the Bush-era White House Office of Political Affairs violated the Hatch Act by using taxpayers' money to run parts of the Republican campaign out of the White House in the mid-term elections of 2006.
"As the 2006 elections drew nearer, OPA became a partisan political organization," the report states, noting that "OPA was essentially an extension of the [Republican National Committee] in the White House."
The report alleged that OPA staffers held campaign-oriented meetings during work hours, encouraged federal employees to participate in Republican events, and coordinated administration business trips with political events around the country -- all apparent violations of a 1939 law that seeks to keep party politics out of the executive branch of government.
The report said it could not "pinpoint" the exact moment the Bush-era OPA became a "political boiler room" for Republicans, but
OPA engaged in a significant amount of political activity during the 2006 midterm election cycle, such as: conducting partisan political briefings for agency personnel; developing and managing lists of targeted Republicans in upcoming elections; coordinating the travel of high-level agency political appointees to events with targeted Republican campaigns; interfacing and strategizing with the RNC, NRCC, and other political groups; suggesting participation in 72-hour deployment efforts; tracking the results of such volunteer efforts; and tracking money raised at fundraisers attended by administration officials.
The OSC report stopped short of recommending penalties for Bush staffers. While Politico reports that criminal charges are possible in Hatch Act violations, the OSC website recommends "removal" of employees who violate the law, or 30-day suspensions for lesser violations.
The report recommended that "OPA employees should avoid engaging in political activities to prevent it from transforming from an official government office into a partisan political operation. Foremost, individuals employed by a political party or partisan political group should never be permitted to operate out of government offices."
Whether by coincidence or not, the Obama administration announced last week that it would be shutting down its own Office of Political Affairs in the White House, and moving some staff to Chicago to be part of Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.
The New York Times described Obama's plan to keep his re-election team away from Washington as "a first for a modern-day presidential re-election campaign."
Whether that move was meant to be a reaction to the OSC report, or whether the Obama administration simply concluded that the White House doesn't require a political affairs office, is unclear: White House staffers would not discuss the matter with the press on Monday, Politico reported.