WASHINGTON - In the run-up to the 2006 midterm election in which Republicans lost control of the House, the Bush administration repeatedly broke the law by using federal funds to send cabinet secretaries and other high-level political appointees to congressional districts of GOP candidates in tight races, according to a government report.
"Because those trips were classified as official, funds from the U.S. Treasury were used to finance the trips and reimbursement from the relevant campaigns was never sought," said the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that enforces Hatch Act restrictions on partisan political activity inside the government.
"In other cases, even when trips were correctly designated as political, agencies used U.S. Treasury funds to cover the costs associated with the trips and did not recoup those funds as required by the Hatch Act and its regulations," it concluded.
OSC found that 10 agencies used federal funds to pay for political appointees to travel to events supporting Republican candidates in 2006 in an operation monitored closely by the White House Office of Political Affairs. The report says that aspects of OPA that came in conflict with the Hatch Act during the Bush era "have apparently existed for decades." Yesterday, David Sherzer, a spokesman for former President George W. Bush, declined to comment.
Hatch Act violations are punishable with a maximum of dismissal, a remedy unavailable now as those involved left the government. OSC spokesman Darshan Sheth said no criminality was uncovered in the investigation and, therefore, the results were not referred to the Justice Department. Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler declined to comment.