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The Flynn Scandal

The GOP’s Assault on the NLRB Backfires

by JOHN LOGAN

For the past year, the GOP has conducted an all-out assault against the National Labor Relations Board, but it may soon regret ever bringing  public attention to the agency.

Last week, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the NLRB requested that the Office of Special Counsel investigate whether Republican NLRB member Terence Flynn violated the Hatch Act, which governs the political activities of federal employees. The OIG had already uncovered extensive evidence that Flynn funneled confidential information to former Mitt Romney advisor Peter Schaumber and others involved in litigation and lobbying against the board. Yesterday, he issued a supplemental report documenting additional revelations of wrongdoing, leading to calls for Flynn’s resignation from Representative George Miller (D-Calif) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was even asked about the scandal at the daily briefing.

Among the multiple email exchanges with Schaumber – in which Flynn disclosed confidential information on several high-profile cases and issues – one exposes the extent to which Flynn was prepared to deceive his colleagues on the board. Schaumber sent a draft article attacking a recent board decision on healthcare bargaining units and received extensive revisions from Flynn.  After it was published in The Hill’s “Congress Blog” on April 18, 2011, then Chairman Wilma Liebman forwarded the piece to Flynn stating, “Trust you saw this…. Perhaps even wrote it.” Flynn, who already wrote to Schaumber that it might get “picked up by others,”  responded to Liebman: “I am not familiar with that blog, but thank you.” Flynn’s general denial of any wrongdoing, the OIG concludes, strike “at the very heart of the Board and all but eviscerates the due process procedures that the Board has established.”

The seriousness of this scandal, and the central role of a senior advisor to Mitt Romney, raise several questions for Republicans:

Question 1: When did Peter Schaumber stop being an advisor to presidential candidate Mitt Romney? When the scandal became public in late March, the Romney campaign remained silent in the face of demands to sack Schaumber. Then, facing the prospect of further damaging revelations, an unnamed Romney aide released a statement last week that has been reported as Schaumber having resigned as co-chair of Romney’s labor advisory group last December, shortly after the OIG started its investigation. But it is unclear if Schaumber actually left in December or informed the campaign in December that he would be leaving. If he left in December, why was Schaumber identified as a Romney advisor on Fox Business News on January 12? And if he left in December, why wait a month before releasing this news?

Question 2: When will Representatives Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and John Kline (R-Minn.) start treating this scandal with the seriousness it merits? Apparently exhausted after a year of conducting witch-hunts at the board, Hill Republicans have shown no interest whatsoever in the biggest scandal at the NLRB in seven decades.

Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD.), ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has twice written to chairman Darrell Issa requesting that he investigate the scandal. Issa, who spent 2011 hounding the NLRB over imaginary scandals, has “called no hearings, conducted no interviews, and sent no document requests.”

John Kline, chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, declined to make pubic the OIG’s report – it was released after days of Republican inaction by ranking Democrat George Miller – and subsequently attempted to divert attention from the scandal, first blaming President Obama’s recess appointments to the board, then calling for the OIG to investigate another “scandal” dreamt up by Hill Republicans (which has gone nowhere).

Question 3: To what extent have Flynn’s disclosures been used to advance the GOP’s assault on the NLRB? The real scandal here involves not only insider trading in deliberative information by current and former GOP members of the board. At the heart at the scandal is the GOP’s sustained assault on the board and on labor rights more generally. Joined at the hip with anti-union organizations, Republicans have introduced legislation and congressional review acts, supported litigation, called hearings, and subpoenaed documents in an attempt to block the board’s efforts to improve enforcement of labor law.

Schaumber, who declined to be interviewed by the OIG and has refused to comment on the scandal, used confidential information to promote himself on right-wing media as an expert on the board with insider knowledge. But Romney has stated that his Labor Policy Advisory Group, which Schaumber co-chaired, “helped shape the policies I am proposing” on labor law. So, how exactly have Republicans and their anti-union cronies used Flynn’s improper disclosures to help stack the deck against the labor board?

When one party is prepared to go this far in order to undermine the work of a federal agency, it is time to reevaluate the state of our labor rights. In other democracies, this kind of duplicity would be greeted with incredulity. The reaction here should be no different.

John Logan is Director and Professor of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.