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U.S. Republican says ex-Cabinet member broke law, sought campaign money

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A prominent Republican congressman accused President Barack Obama's former labor secretary on Wednesday of breaking federal law by seeking political campaign contributions for Obama's 2012 re-election effort.

In his latest salvo at White House political tactics, U.S. Representative Darrell Issa played a tape of what he said was a 2012 voicemail from Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in which she solicits money from an unidentified subordinate.

Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, convened a hearing of the panel after the White House said on Tuesday that political adviser David Simas would not answer a subpoena to appear because he was immune from being compelled to testify.

Before ending the hearing without testimony from other witnesses, Issa played the tape in which a woman seeks a political contribution in what Issa said was a violation of the Hatch Act restricting federal employees' political activity.

In the tape, the person Issa identified as Solis says: "Wanted to ask you if you could, um, help us get folks organized to come to a fundraiser that we're doing for Organizing for America for Obama campaign on Friday at La Fonda at 6 p.m. ... There are a lot of folks that we know that are coming but wanted to ask you if you might help contribute or get other folks to help out."

The Los Angeles Times reported this year that Solis was being investigated by the FBI for her role in the La Fonda fundraiser.

Solis, who was elected last month to the Los Angeles County board of supervisors, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment on the Solis audio tape, saying it was part of an ongoing law enforcement investigation that dates to January.

Issa subpoenaed Simas last week to testify about how his office complies with the Hatch Act. Simas is director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach. Recent presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have all had at least one top political adviser in a similar position.

"It is ironic that an administration claiming to be the most transparent, ever, had resisted oversight of its political office and offered less cooperation than its predecessors," Issa said.

Earnest blasted Issa's activities, including a blizzard of subpoenas, calling them "shenanigans" and said that he had been distributing subpoenas like candy on Halloween.

In written testimony, Carolyn Lerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel, said Simas' office "appears to be operating in a manner that is consistent with Hatch Act restrictions."

U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, also lashed out at Issa.

"We do not simply haul in one of the president's top advisers at will. There must be a valid reason," he said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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