Justice Department Looks at USDA Worker Contributions to Clinton
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The House Agriculture Committee says it will work with the Justice Department to investigate allegations that Agriculture Department employees were pressured to contribute money to Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992 when he was running for president.
Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., made the statement Wednesday after a Justice Department official confirmed that the department was preparing to take the allegations to a grand jury.
The Hatch Act forbids political interference with civil service employees, and especially forbids collecting campaign money at federal work sites, such as the Agriculture Department. Roberts said he was concerned the violations went beyond that and included coercion of employees.
``We have complaints and allegations from concerned USDA employees who claim political employees threatened and cajoled career government employees into giving political donations and rewarded those employees with advancement at the expense of career employees who did not contribute,″ Roberts said. ``Such activity cannot and will not be tolerated.″
The allegations stem from 1992, when Republicans still controlled the administration. Late in the 1992 campaign, 38 high-ranking employees of what was known as the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service gave donations to a political action committee called Farmers & Ranchers ’92, the Los Angeles Times reported last year.
The PAC was nationally co-chaired by Rep. Mike Espy, D-Miss., who went on to become President Clinton’s first agriculture secretary. The Washington coordinator was Grant Buntrock, a former Carter administration official and family farmer advocate who took over ASCS in 1993.
The agency, which administers major commodity programs, has since been renamed the Farm Service Agency, and Buntrock is still its acting director.
The Times reported that 21 of the 38 employees who gave contributions ranging from $50 to $500 were promoted or given better assignments under the Clinton administration.
Roberts, who has pressed the matter since late last year, said the operations subcommittee will hold hearings. ``We will work in concert with the Justice Department,″ he said. ``The committee will meet its oversight responsibilities in such a way that does not impede the Justice Department investigation and stands ready to assist in that investigation.″
Espy and Buntrock have denied any connection between job advancement and contributions.
Espy resigned last year as agriculture secretary because of an independent counsel investigation into favors to him from corporations and personal use of government travel.
Espy’s successor, Dan Glickman, on Wednesday revised and reissued a memo on the Hatch Act that he had issued in April after taking office.
``In view of the approaching election year, I want to take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of strict compliance,″ Glickman said.