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Watchdog group alleges DNC cover-up over reimbursements for Sebelius political trip

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 8:50 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee failed to properly disclose its reimbursements for a 2012 trip during which Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius violated the Hatch Act, a government watchdog group says.

The nonprofit organization Cause of Action filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission on Tuesday. Cause of Action is headed by Daniel Epstein, former Republican counsel for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel determined in September that Sebelius had violated the Hatch Act — a 1939 law that prohibits executive branch employees from engaging in political activities — by plugging President Obama during a gala last February for the Human Rights Campaign in Charlotte.

During the event, Sebelius told attendees they should “make sure that we not only come together here in Charlotte to present the nomination to the president, but we make sure that in November he continues to be president for another four years.”

After the rally, Health and Human Services reclassified the secretary's trip from official to political, according to a report from the Office of Special Counsel.

The DNC has reimbursed about $2,500 to the Treasury for costs Sebelius and an aide incurred while traveling to the event, according to the complaint.

Cause of Action alleges the DNC reported the reimbursements as operating expenses with the FEC, “thereby avoiding any acknowledgment that the purpose of the expenditure was to reimburse the federal government for Secretary Sebelius' Hatch Act violation.”

The group said federal law requires party committees to report such payments as “independent expenditures,” thus marking them as compensation for political activities.

Cause of Action said Wednesday that the Obama administration effectively made a donation to the DNC and that the committee has never reported that contribution in its FEC filings.

The DNC criticized the group's complaint.

“This is utter nonsense being peddled by right-wing partisans who have nothing better to do than dredge up an issue that has long since been resolved,” party spokesman Brad Woodhouse said.

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