Obama Names Campaign Donor To Police Veterans Affairs

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President Barack Obama’s nominee for inspector general of the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs contributed to the chief executive’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Michael J. Missal, a partner at Washington, D.C.-based K&L Gates, LLP, would be VA’s first permanent IG in two years if he is confirmed by the Senate. In addition to a $2,300 Obama donation late in the 2008 presidential race, Missal donated $25,000 to his firm’s political action committees since that year, according to Federal Election Commission data.

K&L Gates’ PAC gave more to Democrats in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, but more to Republicans in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles. Overall, the PAC contributed $1.2 million to Democratic congressional candidates and committees, and $1.1 million to GOP candidates and committees between 2008 and 2014.

OpenSecrets.org data showed 2010 as the PAC’s most active year when 58 percent of its $675,374 in campaign contributions went to Democrats.

Missal has practiced law at K&L Gates since 1987, concentrating in government enforcement and representing private-sector clients as counsel before the Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Justice, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

He was a staff assistant for President Jimmy Carter from 1978 to 1981, then served as senior counsel for the enforcement division of the SEC from 1983 to 1987. He joined K&L in 1987 and made partner in 1991.

The Environmental Defense Action Fund, Algae Biomass Organization, and dozens of other Fortune 500 and Wall Street firms, and nonprofit groups paid K&L Gates $17.4 million in 2014 to lobby committees and members of Congress, mostly over appropriations bills.

The VA hasn’t had a permanent IG since December 2013, and in recent years has become the focus of multiple congressional investigations of veterans dying while on wait lists seeking treatment and benefits, and of whistleblowers being punished for talking to Congress about the problems.

Government accountability advocates aren’t jumping up and down yet over Missal.

“There isn’t anything on his resume that sends up a big red flag, but there isn’t anything that makes us enthusiastic about his appointment either,” said Joe Newman, director of communications for the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit organization that advocates for government efficiency and transparency for the taxpaying public.

Transparency groups and members of Congress have been calling on Obama to select a permanent IG for months, but the president announced Missal’s nomination quietly along with 11 other nominations Friday.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said the appointment is long overdue.

“I welcome the news that the president has nominated Michael J. Missal to serve as VA inspector general,” Johnson said. “For far too long, the VA OIG’s lack of permanent leadership has compromised veteran care, fostered a culture of whistleblower retaliation within the agency, and compromised the independence of the VA’s chief watchdog.”

Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, declined to comment, but his panel has been the chief investigative entity in exposing the troubled department’s problems.

“In the midst of the largest and most damaging scandal in VA’s history, it is vitally important that the VA Office of Inspector General have an independent and objective leader in place to combat waste, fraud and abuse,” Miller wrote to Obama last year.

Missal, who did not return a request for comment, was lead counsel to the independent review panel investigating a 2004 60 Minutes segment by CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather on former President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. CBS fired four employees, including Rather, for relying on documents the news outlet couldn’t authenticate.

Missal has no prior experience in the military or on an IG staff.

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