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Former Interior Boss Used Indian Visit as Political Smokescreen

WASHINGTON—Visits by the Bush administration’s Department of the Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in 2006 to the districts of then-Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., and then-Rep. Charles Taylor, R-N.C., were inappropriately funded by taxpayers, according to a report by the Office of Special Counsel.

The implication of the report, three years in the making, is that federal funds were used by Kempthorne and other former Bush administration officials to promote Republican politicians, which is in violation of the Hatch Act. The 1939 law is aimed at limiting federal workers’ explicit efforts to influence the electoral process.

At least one of Kempthorne’s trips was taken under the guise of visiting Indians on behalf of the Interior Department, but the report said there was another motive: “political activity.”

The event in question, a signing of a Bennett Freeze agreement in fall 2006, was attended by both Kempthorne and Renzi, and was billed as an “official Native American event.”

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But the report found another compelling interest for the joint appearance: “In this context, Secretary Kempthorne’s appearances with Representative Renzi were official in name only. In reality, these events constituted political activity because they were directed toward Representative Renzi’s electoral success.”

Several other former Bush administrators were found to have violated the law.

The Office of Special Counsel told the New York Times Monday that “because the administration officials had left office, it no longer has jurisdiction to file any charges. It also said that it had not made a formal referral to the Justice Department to ask it to pursue any possible charges.”

View the full report at the Office of Special Counsel website: "Investigation of Political Activities by White House and Federal Agency Officials During the 2006 Midterm Election."