Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The Bush White House violated federal policy by deploying five top administration officials to Nevada, at least some at taxpayer expense, two years ago to help Republicans win election campaigns, according to a House committee.
Appearances on behalf of Rep. Jon Porter and other Nevada Republicans were among more than 300 trips the Bush White House coordinated nationwide to help the party in the 2006 elections, the committee said.
“The extent of political activity by the current White House and its deep and systematic reach into the federal agencies is unprecedented,” said the draft report from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, headed by California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman.
White House spokesman Trey Bohn said the committee’s investigations “tend to be a colossal waste of time and taxpayer money. This one is no different.
“Rather than spend time focusing on Congressman Waxman’s transparent attempt to make political hay with his draft press report, we’ll continue to center our attention on more important matters.”
Efforts to restrict political activities of executive branch officials date to Thomas Jefferson and became law with the 1939 Hatch Act, which sought to limit the reach of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s expanding army of administration officials.
Though administration officials are permitted to stump for candidates, and routinely do, they are expected to do so “off government property and not during regular duty hours,” the report said.
The congressional investigation began after Waxman’s committee learned of political briefings for the 2008 election being conducted at a government agency. The committee’s investigation found “an aggressive strategy to use taxpayer funded trips to help elect Republican candidates to office.”
Even agency heads prohibited from political activity, such as the drug czar, were recommended for dispatch.
For the 2006 elections, cabinet secretaries or other Bush administration officials attended 326 events on behalf of 99 candidates running for the House, Senate or governor’s offices. The pace quickened to three per day the month before the election.
The committee’s report said the White House sent officials to Nevada to help Porter and sent the federal drug czar to an event with Jim Gibbons, then a congressman running for governor.
Sen. John Ensign, who was running for reelection, received two visits from the education secretary.
The five trips for Porter began with a visit by the education secretary in August, followed by visits from the acting transportation secretary, the drug czar and the secretaries of the Veterans Affairs and Interior departments.
Porter spokesman Matt Leffingwell told the Sun, “The congressman was not aware of any coordination by the White House. We are not expecting any similar events this year.”
Most administration officials are allowed to participate in partisan political events, but federal law says costs should be paid for from political party accounts.
Committee investigators think trips to at least 185 events nationwide were paid for by taxpayers. The events in Nevada likely involved taxpayer funds.
The report singled out trips to Nevada by drug czar John Walters, who used events for Gibbons and Porter to hand out a pair of $500,000 payments of federal drug-fighting money.
After the election, the drug office’s work was noted by an aide to Karl Rove, then White House political affairs director. The aide sent an e-mail relating Rove’s appreciation for visiting “the god awful places we sent them,” according to an e-mail obtained by the committee.
Because most of those involved in the strategy have since left the White House, the report recommends no administrative sanctions.
However it does say the White House political office should be eliminated or at least changed “to ensure that it serves the interests of the taxpayer, not the political party of the President.”
Representatives of Ensign and Gibbons did not respond to requests for comment.