The top Republican on the Senate’s health care committee warned on Wednesday that a recent administration decision to allow cabinet secretaries to raise money for political organizations could coerce individuals or organizations into financially supporting the president’s reelection in order to avoid a regulatory backlash.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is one of a handful of cabinet officials who have said they will speak at fundraising events for a major super PAC supporting the president’s reelection.
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, said the move creates a “self-evident” conflict of interest for the secretary.
Because Sebelius has broad authority to implement sweeping new health care regulations, Enzi said in a letter to the president, “it would be particularly inappropriate to also have her participate in these fundraising events.”
“The potential for health care stakeholders to perceive a compulsion to financially participate in these activities, to possibly avert subsequent adverse regulatory decisions, is self evident,” Enzi added.
A source familiar with committee workings told Scribe that Enzi will ask Sebelius about this potential conflict at Wednesday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing on the president’s proposed budget, where Sebelius will testify.
The secretary’s authority over the new Obamacare law has even extended to decisions about which entities will be forced to comply with it. Given the burdensome financial and regulatory requirements of the law, numerous companies will have a direct and substantial interest in pushing to exempt themselves from those requirements.
“In light of this potential conflict of interest,” Enzi wrote, “I request that you reconsider your Administration’s decision to allow Secretary Sebelius to attend such fundraising events.”
If she insists on participation, Enzi wrote, Sebelius should recuse herself from any regulatory decisions that affect the people or organizations that have participated in these fundraising activities.
Sebelius and cabinet secretaries Steven Chu (Energy), Ray LaHood (Transportation), Ken Salazar (Interior) and Arne Duncan (Educatation) have said they will speak at fundraising events for Priorities USA Action, a major third-party fundraising group supporting the president’s reelection. While they themselves will not specifically ask for money, they will headline events explicitly designed as fundraising efforts.
While the efforts are legal, assuming the officials don’t themselves engage in the fundraising “ask,” they raise significant conflict-of-interest questions. Look for these issues to be addressed at Wednesday’s hearing.
Here is Enzi’s full letter: