Sends FOIAs to Office of Management and Budget, Office of Governmental Ethics, Office of Special Counsel, and U.S. Navy

On September 23, 2011, Cause of Action sent FOIA requests to the OMB, OGE, OSC, and U.S. Navy seeking information about White House officials’ participation in political events.

Upon taking office, President Obama promptly signed Executive Order 13490, requiring every appointee in every executive agency to sign an ethics pledge concerning their communications with lobbyists or participation on matters related to their prior lobbying activities.[1]  The Executive Order allowed certain employees to be granted waivers from the order based on “exigent circumstances relating to national security or to the economy.” On April 22, 2010, the Office of Government Ethics (“OGE”) issued a memorandum finding “several situations in which ethics officials issued waivers . . . after employees acted in particular matters from which they should have been recused, or otherwise engaged in conduct that was prohibited.”[2]  Further, CoA questioned how officials at the Department of Education, Department of Labor, and the Peace Corps,[3] qualified for waivers based on “exigent circumstances relating to national security or to the economy.”

CoA also pointed out that recent news reports suggested that federal funds and property may have been used for political purposes despite the Hatch Act.  For instance, the New York Times reported that the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”) used the White House Blue Room to hold a campaign fundraiser[4] and that, while President Obama attended the fundraiser,[5] the meeting did not appear on his public schedule.[6]  According to a Politico report, all thirty guests were donors to President Obama’s 2008 campaign.[7]  Further, according to a New York Times article, the DNC organized and sponsored the event.[8]  The reports of the DNC meeting at the White House spurred congressional investigations, led by the  Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at the U.S. House of Representatives.[9]  Committee Chairman Darrell Issa noted that the meeting’s non-appearance on the President’s calendar “call[ed] into question its official nature.”[10]  According to one anonymous attendee, “It was policy-focused, but everyone knew why they were there.”[11]

Finally, CoA noted that the White House has claimed that the Office of Administration White House Counsel’s office is not an agency for FOIA purposes.[12]  The Office of Government Ethics, however, identifies K. Colleen Wallace as the Designated Agency Ethics Official for the White House Office of Administration/Executive Office of the President.[13]  Thus, it would appear that the White House does not consider itself an agency for FOIA purposes but does consider itself an agency for ethics purposes.

In its FOIA request, CoA sought information from the OMB, OGE, and OSC about their efforts (if any) to enforce the Hatch Act and Executive Order as well as information regarding their definition of agency.  CoA also sought information from the U.S. Navy, who manages the White House cafeteria, regarding the White House/DNC event.  CoA wrote that “[t]he American people have a right to know the Administration is enforcing its own ethics rules and complying with the Hatch Act.”  Further, “[t]he Freedom Through Justice Foundation is concerned that taxpayer funds, as well as the White House itself, may have been used for prohibited political purposes.”

Cause of Action is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest firm that uses public policy and legal reform strategies to ensure greater transparency in government, protect taxpayer interests and promote social and economic freedoms.  Follow CoA on Twitter (@TheCauseofAction) or Facebook (

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OMB(May 5, 2012)


[1] Exec. Order No. 13,490, 74 C.F.R. 4673 (2009).
[2] Don W. Fox, Memorandum to Designated Agency Ethics Officials, Re: Guidance on Waivers Under 18 U.S.C. § 208(b), Authorizations Under 5 C.F.R. § 2635.502(d), and Waivers of Requirements under Agency Supplemental Regulations, U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Apr. 22, 2010, available at
[3] The Administration provided waivers to the Executive Order to Joseph Main (Department of Labor), Margot Rogers (Department of Education), James Shelton (Department of Education), Naomi Walker (Department of Labor), and Aaron Williams (Peace Corps).  See Report on Executive Order 13490, Ethics Branch Commitments by Executive Personnel, Mar. 31, 2010, available at
[4] Nicholas Confessore, Obama Seeks to Win Back Wall St. Cash, N.Y. Times, June 12, 2011, available at  (“The event, organized by the Democratic National Committee, kicked off an aggressive push by Mr. Obama to win back the allegiance of one of his most vital sources of campaign cash”).
[5] Id.
[6] Josh Gerstein, Carney defends Obama meeting Wall Street donors at White House, Politico, June 14, 2011, available at
[7] Josh Gerstein, All at DNC Blue Room meeting with Obama were donors, Politico, June 26, 2011,  available at
[8] Nicolas Confessore, Obama Seeks to Win Back Wall St. Crash, N.Y. Times, June 12, 2011 available at
[9] Seee.g., Josh Gerstein and Jake Sherman, Issa seeks DNC records of White House meeting, Politico, July 13, 2011, available at
[10] Letter from Chairman Darrell Issa to Kathryn Ruemmler, July 11, 2011,
[11] Josh Gerstein, Donor meeting at White House draws fire, Politico, June 20, 2011, available at
[12] The White House, Office of Administration – FOIA,
[13] Office of Governmental Ethics, Designated Agency Ethics Officials List, Aug. 12, 2011, available at,-2011).