The Treasury Department directed career employees to analyze tax ideas proposed by presidential candidate John F. Kerry and other Democrats after a request from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), officials said Wednesday.
The Republican National Committee posted an interactive feature on its website that attaches the largest of those cost estimates to Kerry’s plan to raise taxes paid by the wealthiest taxpayers.
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said he was unaware of anyone at the White House who approved the Treasury Department’s decision to analyze Kerry’s tax plan.
Although federal law prohibits civil servants from working on political campaigns while on duty, Treasury Department lawyers deemed the work was appropriate, department spokesman Rob Nichols said.
“That’s a core functionality of the department,” Nichols said. “Doing the analysis is proper, it’s prudent, it’s appropriate. It’s our obligation to do it.”
The Treasury Department posted the analysis on its website March 22, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
DeLay requested the cost analysis to better counter Democratic attempts to amend budget and tax legislation with tax increases on higher-income taxpayers, DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy said. A group of Republicans had also considered using the results to assemble a “Kerry budget” for debate during last week’s budget deliberations, he said.
“If you get a specific number on what those proposals actually bring in, then you can hold the Democrats accountable for their spending,” Roy said.
Democrats said the Treasury Department used their civil servants inappropriately.
“The Bush administration has an ugly habit of using the federal government for its political agenda,” said Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) said: “It was coercion. If they had refused to do it and they were made to do it, it’s illegal.”
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) asked the agency’s inspector general to determine whether laws were violated.
The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates and prosecutes violations of federal personnel laws, says employees cannot “use official authority or influence to interfere with an election” or “engage in political activity while on duty.”