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Working In These Times

Thursday, Apr 5, 2012, 1:54 pm

Romney Silent About His Role in NLRB Scandal

BY Mike Elk

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Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)   (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“The valuable counsel from my Labor Policy Advisory Group has helped shape the policies I am proposing.”Mitt Romney, September 2011

Peter Schaumber, co-chair of Mitt Romney's Labor Policy Advisory Group, was recently implicated in a damning report by the National Labor Relations Board Inspector’s General alleging that NLRB Member Terence Flynn violated the federal agency's ethics rules by passing confidential legal case information to Schaumber last year. According to the Inspector General’s report, which I reported on last week, Flynn, who at that time was chief counsel to GOP NLRB member Brian Hayes, passed on information to Schaumber regarding

lead case lists, pre-decisional votes and positions of the members, the identity of counsel assigned to a case, the status of cases, the researching issues in cases, the deliberation of the former Chairman in [a case], the desire of two members to press forward in [a case], and the analysis of the Board’s resolution on a proposed rule currently in the process of rulemaking.

The NLRB IG referred the matter to the Department of Justice.

So far Romney has not answered any questions about information obtained through violations of ethics rules that he or his campaign may have received from the Terence Flynn. Romney’s Press Secretary Andrea Saul did not respond to an e-mail.  Reporters from other publications, such as Dave Jamieson of the Huffington Post, have had difficulty getting the Romney campaign to respond.

The AFL-CIO is not happy with Romney’s lack of response.

“How candidate Romney responds to these findings is a test of his character. Will Romney embrace Washington insiders who trade on confidential and even attorney-client privileged information? Or will he demand they abide by the same ethical standards the rest of us—the 99%—pride ourselves on and expect others to live up to?”  AFL-CIO Online Mobilization Coordinator Manny Herrmann wrote in an e-mail petition.

Now, more pressure is being added that may force Romney to answer questions. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of Senate Health Education, Labor, and Pension Committeec is asking Flynn to turn over records of all e-mails, phone calls and face-to-face conversations he and Schaumber have had since Schaumber left the NLRB in 2010. Harkin has given Flynn until April 9 to respond to his request.

“With all of the external political attacks that the NLRB has faced during this Congress, I am troubled to hear reports of internal ethical misconduct by a Board Member," Harkin said in a statement. "Mr. Flynn’s disclosure of confidential information relating to cases pending before the Board while serving as Chief Counsel to a Republican Board Member not only undermines the impartiality of the Board’s adjudication process, but also raises the alarming possibility that the recent political attacks on the Board could have been aided and abetted by his unethical activity. 

Since Harkin is the chairman of the committee, he has the power to subpoena any records between the two parties if Flynn does not comply.

For now, it is unclear if Harkin will be forced to subpoena Flynn and Schaumber. “Chairman Harkin will make a decision about next steps after he has received a response from Mr. Flynn” says Harkin spokeswoman Justine Sessions.

It appears that one way or another, Flynn will be forced to explain his actions and further detail his communications with Schaumber. It's one of the biggest scandals to ever hit the federal agency tasked with adjudicating collective bargaining rights cases. 

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.

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