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  Joe Sestak’s “Bribe” Scandal: Another Ethics Sideshow
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Last Edited--  May 27, 2010 06:03pm
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CategoryOpinion
AuthorRichard Painter
News DateTuesday, May 25, 2010 02:00:00 AM UTC0:0
DescriptionThe press is reporting continued controversy -- and threats of a Congressional ethics compliant -- over the White House having previously offered a political appointment to Congressman Joe Sestak “in return” for his agreeing not to run in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary against Democratic (formerly Republican) Senator Arlen Specter. Whatever offer the White House made, it didn’t work, and Sestak went on to win the primary.

“Nice try” is what I would say to the White House. I would prefer if the White House were to stay out of Democratic primaries and focus on the tasks at hand. Then again, President Bush occasionally intervened in Republican primaries (including on behalf of Senator Specter in 2004). The less partisan politics in the White House the better (I would like to see the President abolish the White House Office of Political Affairs). This, however, is nothing new and it hardly rises to the level of a major ethics controversy.

The allegation that the job offer was somehow a “bribe” in return for Sestak not running in the primary is difficult to support. Sestak, if he had taken a job in the Administration, would not have been permitted to run in the Pennsylvania primary. The Hatch Act prohibits a federal employee from being a candidate for nomination or election to a partisan political office. 5 U.S.C. § 7323(a)(3). He had to choose one or the other, but he could not choose both.

The job offer may have been a way of getting Sestak out of Specter’s way, but this also is nothing new. Many candidates for top Administration appointments are politically active in the President’s political party. Many are candidates or are considering candidacy in primaries. White House political operatives don’t like contentious fights in their own party primaries and sometimes suggest jobs in the Administration for persons who otherwise would be contenders. For the White House, this is usually a “win-win” situat
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