U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) asserted on Thursday that a contract executed to hire a private attorney to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court complies with the law — despite earlier reporting that the agreement may be in violation of rules regarding government contracts.
During a news conference, Boehner denied the agreement was in violation of any House rules when asked by the Washington Blade if he’s confident the contract doesn’t violate a law mandating that government-allocated funds be approved through the congressional appropriations process before they’re obligated for any purpose.
“This hiring was approved by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group,” Boehner said. “I’m confident that it complies with all of the rules of the House.”
Boehner didn’t answer a subsequent question on whether he could assure taxpayers that the cost of hiring attorney Paul Clement won’t exceed the $500,000 initial top sum cap that was agreed to in the contract.
In April, House General Counsel Kerry Kircher, under direction from Boehner, executed a contract with Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general, to assist with defense of DOMA in court for an initial total sum cap that could reach $500,000 and a blended rate of $520 an hour. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group had previously voted 3-2 on a party-line basis to take up defense of DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, after the Obama administration announced in February it would no longer defend the anti-gay law in court.
The contract was executed with Clement through his partnership with the law firm Bancroft LLC. Clement had earlier been contracted to defend DOMA in court through his employment at King & Spalding, but the firm dropped the agreement to defend DOMA, citing an inadequate vetting process prior to taking up defense of the statute. Clement resigned from his position at King & Spalding and went to Bancroft, where he pledged to continue litigating on behalf of the law.
But many lawmakers have questioned the source of the funds for hiring Clement because they weren’t appropriated before his contract was executed and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group has no budget to allocate funds for this purpose.
Last month during a House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) asked Kircher and Dan Strodel, the House’s chief administrative officer, about the source of the funds for hiring Clement. Kircher replied they they wouldn’t come out of the Office of General Counsel’s budget and Strodel said he didn’t know from where the money would come.
According to The Huffington Post, Honda believes that the contract could be violating the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits “involving the government in any obligation to pay money before funds have been appropriated for that purpose.” Violating the law with prior knowledge could lead to a fine or imprisonment.
In a statement provided to the Blade, Honda criticized Boehner for his response during the news conference and said continued defense of DOMA in court shouldn’t happen when the economy is the priority for Americans.
“Speaker Boehner just doesn’t get it,” Honda said. “The American people want Congress to focus on creating jobs and finding a way to preserve Medicare for future generations, not paying a high-priced private law firm $520 per hour to defend a constitutionally flawed and discriminatory law.”
Following the publication of The Huffington Post report, Democrats on the Committee on House Administration raised the question of whether the contract violated the Anti-Deficiency Act in a May 18 letter to Boehner. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had also raised concerns about the contract in April 18 and April 20 letters to the House speaker.
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said Pelosi has yet to receive a response from the letters she sent on April 18 or April 20, nor have Democrats on the Committee on House Administration received a response to their inquiries.
“It is long overdue for Mr. Boehner to answer the questions raised by Leader Pelosi and Members of the Committee on House Administration,” Hammill said. “Mr. Boehner has put taxpayers on the hook for his legal boondoggle to defend an indefensible statute. Apparently, the Republican mantra of spending cuts does not apply to their rightwing ideological agenda.”
Hammill noted the decision to defend DOMA in court was approved by the Republicans on the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group with strong objections voiced by Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Additionally, Hammill said the contact wasn’t shared with Democrats on the Committee on House Administration before it was signed.
Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said Boehner’s response during the news conference is insufficient in the wake of questions that House Democrats raised following the execution of the contract.
“As the speaker remains adamant about defending discrimination with taxpayer dollars, members of Congress have rightly questioned the contract and procedure that brought in outside counsel,” Cole-Schwartz said. “This non-answer from Speaker Boehner isn’t even close to adequate especially given that it’s a member of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, Minority Leader Pelosi, who has been demanding answers to these exact questions.”
The exchange between the Blade and Boehner follows:
Washington Blade: Mister Speaker, two questions on your decision to hire Paul Clement to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. First, are you confident that this contract isn’t in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act? The amount of money to pay Clement seems to have been agreed upon first without being appropriated by Congress. Second, the contract hires Clement for initial total sum cap of $500,000. Can you assure the U.S. taxpayer that the cost of hiring Clement won’t exceed that amount?
Boehner: This hiring was approved by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group. I’m confident that it complies with all of the rules of the House.