The Washington Post recently reported that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kalthleen Sebelius has been approaching “health industry officials, asking them to make large financial donations to help with the effort to implement President Obama’s landmark health-care law, two people familiar with the outreach said.”
This move prompted Members of Congress to question whether the Secretary had violated the law. Senator Orrin Hatch commented, stating, “To solicit funds from health-care executives to help pay for the implementation of the President’s $2.6 trillion health spending law is absurd. I will be seeking more information from the Administration about these actions to help better understand whether there are conflicts of interest and if it violated federal law.”
Jason Young, an HHS spokesperson, defended the Secretary’s actions arguing that ObamaCare encourages the Secretary to work with outside groups to implement the law. The Secretary’s actions, however, would appear to violated the Anti-Deficiency Act as well as Department of Justice regulations. DOJ’s regulations, which apply to all Federal officials, prohibit Federal officials from fundraising in their professional capacity but they do allows a Cabinet member to solicit donations as a private citizen provided they do not “solicit funds from a subordinate or from someone who has or seeks business with the Department, and [the official does] not use [their] official title.”
By pointing to the law, HHS spokesman Jason Young has admitted that Sebelius was acting in an official capacity which suggests that Sebelius is violating the law. The Washington Post reported:
“Meredith McGehee, policy director for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, which researches government ethics issues, said she was troubled by Sebelius’s activities because the secretary seemed to be ‘using the power of government to compel giving or insinuate that giving is going to be looked at favorably by the government.'”
Furthermore, the Washington Post reported that “industry official who had knowledge of the calls but did not participate directly in them said there was a clear insinuation by the administration that the insurers should give financially to the nonprofits.” In other words, Secretary Sebelius is working like the Corleone family from the GodFather, “it’s a mighty nice insurance company you have there, shame if anything would happen to it.”
UPDATE: Michael Cannon from the CATO Institute has additionally commentary on this issue that can be found here.