Lobbying for Labor
By Isaac MacMillen
President Barack Obama nominated Representative Hilda Solis (D-CA) to be Secretary of Labor in mid-December. Since that point, questions have arisen as to the propriety—and legality—of actions she has taken while in the House.
Rep. Solis, who has served in the House of Representatives and the California state senate, has always been a shill for Big Labor. We knew that already. As she appeared before the Senate, however, other facts from her past—and some from her present—troubled her. USA Today revealed to the senators that her husband's business had been subjected to tax leins by state and local officials, making her yet the latest in a string of nominees whose apparent tax impropriety hurt them.
Even more disturbing, though, is the fact that she served as treasurer for the pro-labor group, American Rights at Work (ARW). House Ethics Rules dictate that no member of the House of Representatives may “personally supervise” lobbying efforts by lobbyist groups:.
“[A member] may sit on the board of an organization which, among other things, lobbies Congress, but the Member should not personally supervise the organization‘s lobbying activities since such action on behalf of a single private group would appear inconsistent with her responsibilities to the public at large. [p 352]”
In view of these ethical questions, ALG President Bill Wilson on February 20th sent a letter to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, asking it to make the call as to whether Rep. Solis violated its ethics guidelines. He noted that, if Rep. Holis' conduct is upheld, it would open up the doors for other Representatives to work with advocacy groups.
As noted in the letter and enclosed materials sent by ALG to Capitol Hill on Friday, Rep. Solis served on the board of directors and as treasurer of ARW while simultaneously serving in the House of Representatives. While she is not paid in her capacity as treasurer, she no doubt “personally supervised” the $169,000 which ARW spent on urging residents of New Hampshire to urge congressional support of the Employee “Free Choice” Act—of which she also served as a co-sponsor in the House.
Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) stated that there have been questions “in regard to the positions she held on the board, which allocates the money for lobbying members of Congress. There are several people on the board, but the treasurer allocates the money....” It is now up to the House to decide whether or not that constitutes a breach of ethics protocol.
Additionally, when filing her annual financial disclosure report, which requires the filer to list affiliations, she failed to inform the House of her position within ARW. Though this could be termed an innocent mistake, failure to disclose information on a financial disclosure report was one of the key issues that helped to bring down former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. Ms. Solis waited until January 29th to correct her disclosure forms.
If confirmed, President Obama will be forced to decide whether to allow Ms. Solis to push for the Employee “Free Choice” Act, as it may constitute a violation of the ethics provisions laid out in one of the President's first executive orders. The order states (section 1, paragraph 2):
“All Appointees Entering Government. I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.”
Clearly, Rep. Solis' connections to the EFCA would fall under this provision. And yet as Secretary of Labor, she would be expected to be the voice of the administration in supporting EFCA. No doubt President Obama would be forced to sign yet another waiver to allow her to continue her support of the pro-union legislation—this time from an official capacity.
But he may not have the chance to do that. In light of her ethical questions, the Senate must tread carefully when considering her nomination. A hold should be placed on her nomination until the House provides clarification on its rules and Rep. Solis explains her disclosure ommissions.
Until then, the Senate must stand by President Obama's commitment to an open and ethical government and refuse to move the nomination until these disturbing questions are satisfactorily answered.
Isaac MacMillen is a contributing editor to ALG News Bureau.