The Solis Recording: Did ex-Obama Labor Secretary Violate Hatch Act?

It’s no small event for a former presidential administration official to be under federal investigation, but there hasn’t seemed to be too much news media interest in the case of Obama’s ex-Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

On Wednesday this week, a White House spokesman told reporters at a press briefing, for the first time, that there’s an “ongoing law enforcement investigation” into allegedly improper fundraising for Obama that Solis took part in when she was Labor Secretary. She’s now a Los Angeles County supervisor-elect.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the administration isn’t in a position to comment on the investigation, but that all administration officials have been instructed to abide by the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch federal employees from using their positions for political purposes, such as taking part in soliciting money for political reasons.

Former Obama Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, U.S. government photo.

Former Obama Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. U.S. government photo

This week, the House Oversight Committee released a recording that it said is a voicemail Solis left using her government phone for an employee at the Labor Department while she was secretary.

In the recording, which lasts one minute 14 seconds, Solis asks an unidentified employee, “…if you could, um, help us get folks organized to come to a fundraiser that we’re doing for Organizing for America for Obama campaign…”

Solis has declined reporter requests for comment in the past except to say that she does not believe she committed any wrongdoing.

Chairman of the Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) had subpoenaed the White House official in charge of political strategy, David Simas, to testify at a hearing this past Wednesday, but the White House declared Simas to be exempt from the congressional subpoena, so he did not attend.

Solis has declined reporter requests for comment in the past except to say that she does not think she committed any wrongdoing.

Solis is one in a long string of Democrats and Republicans accused of violating the Hatch Act over the years. In 2007, the OSC found that Bush General Services Administration Chief Lurita Alexis Doan ran afoul of the Hatch Act for activities that resemble the allegations against Solis. Doan allegedly asked GSA political appointees how they could “help our candidates” succeed in the next election. That case received coverage by the Washington Post in multiple articles. The Bush official’s case also received coverage in publications such as Mother Jones and CBS News. The CBS News report touted Doan’s “horrific performance” in an appearance before Congress during which she said she couldn’t recall making the controversial statement.

A Google news search this week did not generally indicate the same level of interest by those news organizations in the audio recording of the Obama official, Solis, and the White House’s confirmation of the federal investigation into her activities. The same is generally true of the case in which the OSC found Obama HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in violation of the Hatch Act in September of 2012. Sebelius had endorsed a candidate during a Human Rights Campaign event. (In a statement, Sebelius said, “I clearly made a mistake. I was not intending to use an official capacity to do a political event.”)

An Office of Special Counsel investigation into Solis’ activities ended when she stepped down as Labor Secretary in January of 2013 but the OSC referred the case to the Justice Department. The Los Angeles Times has reported that the FBI interviewed Solis, and a grand jury heard testimony last June.




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