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Friday, June 4, 2010

Are taxpayers paying for trips on behalf of Democratic candidates?

The top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is pressing the administration to disclose the White House political office’s role in coordinating taxpayer-funded travel by government officials on behalf of Democratic candidates.

Opening a new front in his push to investigate the Obama administration, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) sent a letter Thursday to 21 Cabinet secretaries and department heads, seeking details on their political and official travel since February 2009, and whether the Office of Political Affairs coordinated those trips.

The inquiry is a new twist on a fight that congressional Democrats first waged against former President George W. Bush. In October 2008, the House oversight committee, then chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), issued a report accusing the Bush White House of using the political office more aggressively than its predecessors to coordinate campaign travel. The report urged Congress to eliminate the office.

But President Barack Obama decided early on to keep the office, despite repeated pledges to do Washington politics differently. The move disappointed government reform advocates who say the office morphed into a taxpayer-funded political operation under Bush adviser Karl Rove.

Now, Issa is picking up the charge — just as the White House’s political shop tries to beat back claims that it sought to sidetrack Democratic primary challengers to favored candidates by suggesting the administration would offer them a post.

“President Obama’s campaign promise to change politics as usual in Washington has been undermined by the continuing political campaign this White House has run through the White House Office of Political Affairs,” Issa said in a statement to POLITICO. “During the previous administration, there was plenty of bipartisan criticism about the Office of Political Affairs as an institution, but many leading Democratic critics in Congress immediately went silent after the 2008 election.

“The change of administrations certainly hasn’t resolved concerns that this office is being used by the Obama administration to improperly coordinate with and help political campaigns rather than advancing specific policy initiatives being pushed by the president,” Issa said.

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment. (Continues here at POLITICO)

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