GAO Rejects Dems Challenge of Social Security Mailing

May 3, 2005 ( - A government watchdog agency has turned aside accusations from eight Democratic US senators, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, that the Social Security Administration is improperly lobbying for administration efforts to reform the program.

In a letter released by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) from General Counsel Anthony Gamboa, the agency said materials submitted to support the allegations of violations of anti-lobbying prohibitions did not constitute evidence that a federal agency had illegally contacted lawmakers in support of President Bush’s Social Security reform plan.  

>Such an effort would be violating prohibitions on spending government money on lobbying found in 18 USC Sec. 1913 and Section 503 of the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution of 2005 (Pub. L. No. 108-447).

>Among the documents cited by the senators was a message mailed to 140 million Americans describing their estimated Social Security benefits. The message mailed this year discussed projected funding problems with the Social Security Trust Fund. The senators suggested it was intended to spur citizens to contact Congress in support of Bush’s plans for changes in the Social Security program.

>The senators had suggested that the legal standard used by GAO to measure illegal lobbying amounted to a “magic words” requirement that does not take into account the context and overall message of the Social Security effort. GAO said, however, it would not change the previous standard.

“We have no reason to think that Congress meant to preclude government officials from saying anything that might possibly cause the public to think about or take positions on the issues of the day and, as a result, contact their elected representatives,” Gamboa wrote. “To the contrary, we see the free and open exchange of ideas and views as central to our political system and, accordingly, remain reluctant to construe these laws in such a way that would unnecessarily or excessively constraint agency communications with the public or Congress.”

The contentious Social Security reform debate has also prompted two prominent Republican members of the US House of Representatives to called for the US Department of Labor (DoL) to investigate whether union opposition to President Bush’s Social Security reform proposals violates federal law (See  Two Lawmakers Call for DoL Probe of Union SS Reform Lobbying ).