"Inside the EPA Weekly Report" on O'Donnell and the EPA
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Johnson Campaign Appearance Bolsters Democrats In Key House Race
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson's appearance at a controversial campaign fundraiser for a Colorado Republican congressional candidate last month may help Democrats in their effort to pick up the seat in what is considered one of the most competitive House races in the country.
We would do it again,” O’Donnell’s spokeswoman says, adding that Democrats will gain no traction because the complaints will be dismissed as groundless....
The fact that the event was held at the Denver office of Greenberg Traurig, the law firm where convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff worked, has helped Democrats keep their claims in play. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), for example, points to the Johnson controversy to show close Republican ties to industry....
In fact, when news of the event first broke, one GOP former appointee at EPA said that Johnson's appearance would help Democrats define O'Donnell. “Don't do anything that gives the other team grist for discussion," the source said.
As part of their effort to drive home their message, Democrats are calling for government investigations into the event. Earlier this month, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, joined the Colorado Democratic Party in asking the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the Hatch Act, to investigate whether Johnson violated the law.
“The potential violations of the Act could lead one to draw an inference that a political campaign was attempting to provide access to a government officials for donors whose businesses are regulated by that official. . . . While it has been reported that Mr. Johnson never approved the e-mails, I would appreciate your independent review of the circumstances under which the invitations were sent,” Conyers' April 6 letter says. “It also may be possible that Mr. Johnson violated federal prohibitions on solicitation of political contribution or participation,” Conyers adds.
A spokesman from the Office of Special Counsel acknowledges that the office is looking into the complaints but would not provide any more information.
Herb Rubenstein, one of three Democratic candidates vying for the seat, says Democrats may also have been helped in their bid to keep the story alive because the O'Donnell campaign refused to release a list of those who attended the event, creating the impression that the campaign had something to hide. “All Rick had to do was give out the names and this story would be over,” he says.
But when EPA eventually released the list in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, it prompted new allegations from Democrats of close ties between Republicans and industry. It is “very bizarre that environmental lawyers were allowed an hour in a closed-door session with the EPA administrator,” a DCCC source says.
Roy Palmer, the top lobbyist for Xcel Energy, also attended, according to O'Donnell's spokeswoman and Federal Election Commission records. While Xcel Energy has a current lawsuit against the agency in an effort to get its West Texas facilities exempted from the clean air interstate rule, O'Donnell's spokeswoman says Palmer and O’Donnell have been friends for years and that Palmer came to support the candidate, not to lobby the EPA administrator.
O’Donnell’s spokeswoman says she refused to release the attendees in an effort to protect their privacy. “The intent was not to keep a secret.”
But O'Donnell does not appear to be distancing himself from the Bush administration. O’Donnell's spokeswoman says the campaign has invited Colorado reporters to a fundraiser next week that will be headlined by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, in an effort to demonstrate that no lobbying occurs at O'Donnell fundraisers.