Senate GOPs Seek IG Probe into Sebelius' Fundraising

Senate Republicans are calling for an inspector general review of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' fundraising activities.

Sebelius sought donations from various groups after Congress failed to make appropriations to Enroll America, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The group is operated by Anne Filipic, former White House deputy director for public engagement.

Senate Ranking Members Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) of the Senate Finance Committee, and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today asked HHS Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson to launch an investigation.

"These activities call into question whether appropriations and ethics laws are being followed," the senators wrote of Sebelius' fundraising. "The Antideficiency Act prohibits entering into contracts or obligations or accepting voluntary services for the United States in excess of available appropriations. The prohibition on certain voluntary services in 31 U.S.C. §1342 and the restriction of the use of appropriated funds to their intended purpose in 31 U.S.C. §1301(a) in the “rule against augmentation of appropriations” prevents “a government agency from undercutting the congressional power of the purse by circuitously exceeding the amount Congress has appropriated for that activity.” And the Office of Government Ethics Rule §2635.808 prohibits fundraising in an official’s private capacity from any person or entity that is regulated by that official’s agency."

"...We believe the OIG is well-positioned to impartially examine any and all evidence regarding these practices on the part of Secretary Sebelius or other HHS officials."

The lawmakers note additional details that have surfaced in the past couple of weeks, including an HHS spokesman saying Sebelius' efforts included meetings, calls, and events with 18 categories of individuals and organizations since January, including retail pharmacies, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals. HHS said she solicited funds from H&R Block and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and “only asked the others for technical advice and nonfinancial support because they were regulated by her department.”

"While we recognize that under current law there are certain circumstances in which Executive Branch officials might be allowed to participate in fundraising in an official capacity, the precise nature and appropriateness of Secretary Sebelius’s activities is not clear from public reports," the senators wrote. "We believe a systematic, independent investigation of the matter is necessary to confirm the facts in the case, as well as to detail to what extent any laws, regulations, or internal guidance were not adhered to.  Furthermore, we believe OIG has an important role in reviewing the ethical implications of soliciting donations from entities who are regulated by HHS or may engage in future business with HHS."

"In your role as Inspector General for HHS, we believe it is incumbent upon your office to initiate an investigation to identify and verify the facts related to this matter. Indeed, the very purpose of an investigatory body is to investigate possible wrongdoing and determine whether ethical or legal bounds have been exceeded. Congress relies on your independence and objectivity in identifying the facts so a determination can be made as to what issues need to be pursued."

They asked to hear by June 14 whether an investigation is being initiated.