A watchdog organization in D.C. on Tuesday asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) broke federal law by hiring a law firm to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington alleged in a complaint filed with the ethics office that Boehner violated the Antideficiency Act, which was intended to keep government officials from exceeding congressional appropriations.
The House Office of General Counsel signed a contract to pay an outside law firm $500,000 to defend the 1996 law that restricts the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman. The amount is more than 35 percent of the money the Office of General Counsel received from appropriators, according to CREW. The organization said the absence of $500,000 leaves the Office of General Counsel without enough money to cover expenses and salaries.
“It is ironic that Speaker Boehner — a fierce critic of government overspending — did not hesitate to pledge half a million dollars he does not have to defend a law of dubious constitutionality,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement. “It seems the speaker believes fiscal responsibility starts at home, but not in the House.”
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said the CREW complaint is “off-base and stupid.”
“The Speaker expects any cost to be recouped from the Obama Administration Justice Department, which should be defending the law in court,” Steel said in a statement to Main Justice. “The ‘anti-deficiency act’ has nothing to do with this situation, as anyone with a basic grasp of the law knows.”
George W. Bush Solicitor General Paul Clement is handling the defense of DOMA as a partner at the law firm of Bancroft PLLC in D.C. He left King & Spalding, which the House initially hired to work on the DOMA defense, after the law firm withdrew from its contract with the chamber.
House Democrats have expressed frustration with the decision to hire a law firm to defend DOMA.
They have said Republicans didn’t include them in negotiations for the initial contract and didn’t inform them of King & Spalding’s decision to withdraw. The Democrats also are asking for details about how the House can afford the $500,000 fee.