POLITICS
07/13/2011 03:30 pm ET | Updated Sep 12, 2011

DOMA Defense: John Boehner Complaint Dropped By Watchdog Group

WASHINGTON -- When House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced he would spend $500,000 to hire an outside law firm to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), lawmakers immediately questioned where the money would be coming from and whether it was even legal. Picking up on the issue, watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint on the matter.

Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the contract to defend DOMA was indeed legal, and on Wednesday, CREW officially withdrew its complaint.

The GAO issued a decision in response to an inquiry by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fl.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, finding the contract did not violate the Antideficiency Act. The law prohibits "involving the government in any obligation to pay money before funds have been appropriated for that purpose."

The GAO said it based its decision off of information obtained by the House Chief Administration Officer, who said there was an "adequate unobligated balance" to satisfy the $500,000 contract.

If needed, the House could transfer amounts to the Office of General Counsel's appropriation in order to avoid violating the Antideficiency Act, the GAO said in its decision.

However, in May, House General Counsel Kerry Kircher testified before Congress and said he was told by the House Republican leadership that no funds would come out of the Office of General Counsel's budget for this purpose.

In late April, three Democratic members of the Committee on House Administration wrote a letter to Boehner questioning where the money to pay for legal representation would ultimately come from, given the 12 pending DOMA-related lawsuits.

However, the GAO report was enough to satisfy CREW.

"We just wish everyone in Washington would yield as quickly when their views don't carry the day," the group said in a statement.

The $500,000 contract to hire former-Solicitor General Paul Clement -- at first with the King & Spalding law firm, then with Bancroft, PLLC -- would have been illegal if it had surpassed the House Counsel's budget of $1.4 million, which covers the office's salaries and expenses.

In February, the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend DOMA in court, after deciding the law was unconstitutional.

In response, Boehner announced the Republican-controlled House would take up the cause of defending DOMA in litigation.

At the time, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel called the complaint by CREW "stupid" and asserted the "'Antideficiency Act' has nothing to do with this situation."

"We're glad CREW has realized their complaint was erroneous - and assume this will be the end of the matter for the politicians who have tried to exploit that error," Steel told The Huffington Post Wednesday.

CREW said the GAO report still did not address peripheral issues in the original complaint.

"Nevertheless, given that GAO -- the nonpartisan agency specifically charged with investigating government spending -- has conducted its own inquiry into this matter and found no violation," CREW executive director Melanie Sloan wrote in a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics. "CREW does not believe further investigation is warranted and respectfully withdraws its complaint."

CREW said questions remained about whether there is enough money remaining to pay for future legal bills or other obligations incurred beyond the current fiscal year.

Sloan appeared to be changing her tone a bit from when her group originally filed their complaint.

"Speaker Boehner has vowed to end deficit spending and usher in a new era of government fiscal austerity, warning Americans we need to make do with less," Sloan said at the time. "But apparently, the House leadership can continue freely spending money it doesn't have... This is yet another case of do as I say, not as I do. No wonder the public is so cynical about politics."