Attorney General Eric Holder has been criticized repeatedly for actions viewed as political (or his abandoning independent role) during the Clinton Administration and the Obama Administration. Few, however, seem quite as raw as his participation in an upcoming event to advise black ministers on how far they can go in campaigning in this presidential election, presumably for President Obama who is expected to secure the overwhelming percentage of African American votes. The event is being hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus and will include appearances by other government officials like IRS officials. While the CBC is bipartisan, there remain questions about the propriety of the appearance.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo. is quoted as noting that the ministers represent roughly 10 million voters and will be key in the upcoming election. He adds “President Obama is going to get 95 percent of the [African American] vote.”
The direct participation of Holder in such an event is problematic in my view and shows (again) a complete lack of judgment.
Holder leaves the impression of actively using his office to advance the political agenda of the White House. Admittedly, I have been a critic of Holder as I was a critic of his predecessors in the Bush Administration. I have no problem with the CBC holding this event. There are legitimate concerns over suppression of voting through various state laws and training is a useful response. However, Holder should have shown a modicum of judgment in declining to participate in an event viewed as a training session for Obama supporters in the clergy. Just as liberals denounced the participation of Associate Justice Scalia in a congressional event for the Tea Party, this decision should also be condemned as undermining the integrity of the Justice Department.
Notably, it is the Justice Department and IRS which will be on the forefront of dealing with alleged violations of neutrality among religious organizations with tax-free status. Many such charges have always emerged this year on both sides of the campaign. In Washington, there is an army of private counsel that is readily available to explain the rules. The Justice Department also releases information on these rules.
Even if the DOJ wanted to send someone to the event, the question remains why the Attorney General should be that person when he will be the ultimate decision-maker in future cases involving violations. At a time of growing unease over the entanglement of church and state (as well as faith-based politics generally) the participation of the Attorney General is not a welcomed sight for many who are uncomfortable with the increasing role of religious leaders in our political process. If Alberto Gonzales went to Congress to brief evangelical religious leaders on campaigning in the presidential election, the hue and cry would be deafening. Yet, again, there appears to be little criticism of this appearance by Holder.
What do you think?