A voicemail tape played at a Congressional hearing could be evidence that former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis used her position for political gain. Solis resigned her Cabinet position and was elected in June to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
The tape was played at a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing. It's the latest attack on members of the Obama administration by Republican Chairman Darrell Issa of Vista.
The White House has confirmed to the L.A. Times that the tape is part of an "ongoing law enforcement investigation."
Issa didn’t say how he got the tape, only that the 2012 message was left on a subordinate’s voicemail when Solis was still Labor Secretary.
On the recording, Solis identifies herself, and says she is calling off the record.
She says she just "wanted to ask you if you could help us get folks organized to come to a fundraiser that we’re doing for Organizing For America for the Obama campaign on Friday at La Fonda at 6 p.m." She leaves a pair of phone numbers in case the subordinate wants to "contribute or get other folks to help out." Listen to audio from the tape below.
The issue is the separation of political campaigns from government work.
Political appointees, along with members of Congress, are not allowed to use government phones to make campaign calls. Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, says the use of taxpayer resources for political activities is one of the "black lines that you're not supposed to cross."
She says the more troubling aspect is whether subordinates feel pressured to help out a campaign. "Anytime your boss calls and asks you to make a campaign contribution or be politically active, it is reasonable for the person receiving that call to feel like it is something they should do because their boss is asking them to do it."
McGehee says the ultimate punishment for a cabinet official would be for the President to ask them to resign. Fines are possible for "egregious, repeated attempts." Unless there's a "widespread pattern," she says, the Office of Special Counsel issues a letter of reprimand, cautioning the person not to do it again.
Former California Democratic Congresswoman Laura Richardson was fined $10,000 by the House Ethics Committee after she pleaded guilty in 2012 to requiring staffers to show up at campaign events. She was also defeated at the polls, losing her seat to fellow Democrat Janice Hahn.
The Solis campaign had no immediate comment.