As the Department of Labor’s top cop, Paul Tiao would have been uncomfortably close to the unions he would investigate. That’s why he didn’t get the job. Last Monday on May 9 President Obama withdrew Tiao’s name from consideration as DOL Inspector General (IG) rather than subject him to a Senate Judiciary Committee grilling or install him via one-year recess appointment. Critics had noted that Tiao, though an experienced federal and state prosecutor and most recently special counsel to FBI Director Robert Mueller, was more an ethnic politician than an efficiency manager. More than a decade ago he co-founded a heavily union-funded, if modest-sized political action committee. And that might not be the most disturbing aspect of his activism.
President Obama last May nominated Paul Tiao to head the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General. It was a long wait until last week’s action – and with good reason. National Legal and Policy Center last August explained in detail that in 1999 Tiao helped found a PAC, the Asian American Action Fund (AAAF), to elect candidates from Asian ethnic backgrounds. Almost a decade later, in 2008, the AAAF worked closely with the Democratic National Committee to elect Barack Obama president. Of nine sponsoring organizations listed on the group’s website, six were unions and a seventh was the AFL-CIO. The fund received $38,000, or over a third of its 2008 election cycle revenues, from union PACs. A growing number of senators came to believe that this apparent conflict of interest would have hindered Tiao’s ability to supervise audits in an impartial manner.
Even more problematic was Tiao’s advocacy of granting non-citizens the right to vote. In a 1993 article for the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, “Non-Citizen Suffrage: An Argument Based on the Voting Rights Act and Related Law,” he argued that all lawful permanent residents should be eligible to vote in federal, state and local elections. Not only should legal immigrants vote, he argued, but so should undocumented (i.e., illegal) ones. He favorably referred to a nonbinding ordinance passed by Takoma Park, Maryland voters in 1991, which in his words, “technically extended suffrage to all non-citizens, including undocumented aliens.” Tiao has not recanted this view.
All of this rightfully was troubling to Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Inspector General Act of 1978 states an IG shall be appointed “without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations.” The Labor Department’s website likewise notes that the inspector general is “non-political.” Paul Tiao is a well-traveled veteran of the legal profession, but has little, if any, background as a program manager. The opposition to his nomination was motivated by a desire for accountability. The nomination itself, by contrast, appears to be motivated mainly by political ambition.