A couple weeks back, I wrote about the coincidence of a non-political White House aide, Elizabeth Warren, appearing in a key swing district just a few weeks before the midterm elections. I was told by the Treasury Department, which arranged the trip, that there was nothing political about Warren’s choice of venue, which appears to have been the case. (See update below.) The Center for Public Integrity has since found a number of other cabinet level trips to key swing districts that certainly appear to be unmistakably political. An excerpt from their report:
- Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Oct. 12 appearance in New Salem, N.D. with nine-term Rep. Earl Pomeroy to tour a local high school and discuss rural education;
- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s Oct. 14 visit to Tracy, Cal. to appear with Reps. Dennis Cardoza, Jim Costa, and Jerry McNerney for groundbreaking on an aqueduct project that received $15.8 million in stimulus funds;
- Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s Oct. 14 trip to a Cincinnati-area college with freshman Rep. Steve Driehaus;
- Chu’s Oct. 15 stop in Massillon, Ohio to visit an environmentally-friendly food manufacturing plant with freshman Rep. John Boccieri;
- Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s Oct. 16 “environmental justice” bus tour with four members of the Congressional Black Caucus in Oakland, Cal. Joined by Reps. Barbara Lee, Laura Richardson and Diane Watson of California, and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, Jackson highlighted several local environmental advocacy groups selected to receive $25,000 federal grants;
- Salazar’s Oct. 19 trip to Las Vegas, where he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid watched a groundbreaking ceremony for an electricity transmission line. After the event, the Department of Energy announced a $350 million loan guarantee for the project.
Coincidence? Is John Boehner naturally that color? Does Brian Wilson blow saves?
Of course it is impossible to know for sure absent truth serum or subpoena power, and the relevant agencies all deny doing anything untoward. This apparent habit of using non-political officials to do seemingly political duties is not a huge outrage in the grand scheme of government outrages–the line between policy and politics is mushy enough, and not well regulated by law. But it is striking that House Democrats, who saw this practice as tantamount to corruption during the Bush years, are now silent as the system works in their favor.
UPDATE: A person close to Warren calls to vigorously protest my lumping together her trip to Ohio with the other official travel to swing districts, and makes a couple of points: Unlike the other trips, the Warren visit did involve the local Democratic candidate. Also, Warren is headed soon to Berkeley, California, for another public event in a decidedly non-swing district.