04/02/2012 05:20 pm ET Updated Apr 02, 2012

In NLRB Probe, Dems Turn Up Heat On Ethics Investigation Involving Romney Adviser

WASHINGTON -- Following the release of a potentially embarrassing inspector general's report, Democrats in the House and Senate are pressing for more information on an ethics investigation at the federal labor board that has implicated an adviser to GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

In an investigation recently made public, the inspector general at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that current Republican board member Terence Flynn allegedly disclosed sensitive agency information to outside lawyers while he was serving as agency counsel last year. One of the apparent recipients was former Republican board chairman Peter Schaumber, a lawyer who's been serving as an adviser to Romney on labor issues.

Normally a little-seen federal agency, the labor board has drawn harsh attacks in the past year from Republican lawmakers who claim its rules and decisions are favoring unions at the expense of businesses. Democrats, several of whom have defended the left-leaning board as it has come under fire, appear eager to widen the investigation of a GOP NLRB member and his contact with a Romney adviser.

On Monday Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, sent a letter to Flynn asking that he turn over all records of his correspondence with Schaumber and Schaumber's chief counsel since the former chairman left the board. In a statement, Harkin said the inspector general investigation "raises the alarming possibility that the recent political attacks on the Board could have been aided and abetted by [Flynn's] unethical activity."

Like Peter Kirsanow, another former board member mentioned in the report, Schaumber had written editorials last year blasting the labor board for its purportedly pro-union decisions.

According to the investigation, Flynn, who was recess appointed to the board by President Obama in January, allegedly passed along "the most confidential of Agency information" while he was counsel to former board member Brian Hayes, including case lists, preliminary votes and internal deliberations.

"Given Mr. Flynn's position as a chief counsel and his years of service, he knew, or should have known, that he had a duty to maintain the confidence of the information that he received in the performance of his official duties," the report said. Among his many interactions with Schaumber, Flynn also apparently edited an essay that Schaumber penned for the National Review, which lambasted the board's alleged pro-labor leanings; helped prepare him for a debate with former SEIU union head Andy Stern; and helped craft a business plan for Schaumber based on the former board member's past NLRB experience.

Harkin's letter on Monday comes on the heels of another request, from ranking House oversight committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), that Republicans on the committee conduct interviews of Schaumber and Kirsanow. "I am seeking transcribed interviews of these former officials to determine the extent to which they may have used this information for their own private benefit or to advance their clients’ business interests," Cummings wrote last week.

Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO, which is mobilizing for Obama in a likely general election against Romney, has called on the former Massachusetts governor to cut ties with Schaumber. Late last week the trade federation sent out an alert to 700,000 people calling on Romney to "renounce" the adviser and "fire him immediately."

The Romney campaign has not responded to repeated requests for comment regarding Schaumber.

In a statement last week, Flynn said he planned to stay on the board. "I am troubled by the politicization of this internal matter, in which I have committed no wrongdoing," Flynn said, "and feel that this manufactured controversy is emblematic of the mean-spirited political theatrics that currently paralyze Washington and deter individuals from public service."