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How Rove Directed Federal Assets for GOP Gains

Bush adviser Karl Rove detailed his plan early in the president's first term.
Bush adviser Karl Rove detailed his plan early in the president's first term. (By Joe Marquette -- Bloomberg News)

DeBerry's e-mail captures what administration officials said was the essence of Rove's approach: making sure that political appointees at every level of government pushed a uniform agenda in key media markets and on behalf of White House-backed candidates. That meant resisting the natural tendencies of the federal bureaucracy to cater just to congressional purse-string holders, officials said.

"I feel like people need to hear the message about resisting the urge to travel to the districts of the key committee chairmen and members for the sake of building relationships . . . that the White House determines which members need visits and where we need to be strategically placing our assets," DeBerry wrote.

Some briefings targeted political appointees because of their race or ethnicity. On Aug. 11, 2006, for instance, Hispanic political appointees were summoned to a meeting with Rove's team to discuss the administration's accomplishments for Hispanic Americans.

Even agencies traditionally considered to be above the elections fray sent representatives to such briefings. A White House-arranged meeting that year for Justice Department appointees at the Old Executive Office Building included "a presentation about what the Department of Justice is doing for Hispanic American citizens," the department recently told Waxman's committee.

During the Clinton administration, White House officials made their own attempt to harness the federal bureaucracy's grant announcements and travel, but they were far less systematic. The White House political office held two or three meetings in the 18 months before the 1996 election with each Cabinet secretary and one or two top aides, deeming some agencies such as Justice and State as off limits to politics, former Clinton officials said.

"It was not a full-scale agency briefing. There were no targets; we were not calling them in and giving them lists of who to take care of and punish," said Douglas Sosnik, White House political director in 1995 and 1996. "It was an overview of where we were headed with the campaign."

Helping Endangered Republicans

Politically embattled Republicans such as Shays were frequent beneficiaries.

Between April 2006 and Election Day, Shays was able to announce at least 25 new federal grants or projects totaling more than $46 million, including a new veterans medical facility and a long-awaited installment of federal money for ferry service, according to a Post analysis of his news releases. Seven different Bush administration officials, including two Cabinet secretaries and the chief of the highway administration, visited his district during that time.

In contrast, Shays announced just $39 million in grants and got just one visit by a federal official in the prior 15 months, the analysis shows.

No federal generosity was too small to tout. A top official of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was on hand with Shays when the NOAA awarded a single severe-weather alert radio, valued at $23, to an elementary school in Norwalk, Conn., two months before Election Day.

Shays wrote Bush on Sept. 8, 2006, to seek the early release -- before the election -- of heating assistance money for low-income residents in his state. Just four days later, the White House released $6 million. Asked to comment on the administration's help, Shays's campaign manager Michael Sohn said, "Chris was grateful to be returned to office based on his record of hard work and accomplishment."

Similar efforts to promote grants in key states took place across the government. When the Department of Health and Human Services, for example, released 22 grants totaling $35.7 million for community health and disease-prevention programs in late September 2004, The Post analysis found, half the awards went to targeted election states or congressional districts, the rest to noncompetitive areas that included Democratic strongholds such as Boston and New Orleans.

The agency's news release about those grants, however, detailed at the top just four recipients -- in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and an Oklahoma congressional district -- that Rove's team identified in earlier 2004 briefings as key to the GOP's reelection strategy.

The White House briefings also frequently identified key media markets where Republicans most wanted their message out. A Post review of trips announced by several Bush Cabinet members during the 2004 election showed that their travel fell neatly into the markets listed on a slide included in briefings that year.

Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao made 13 official visits in the last two months of the election, never straying more than 50 miles from the media markets on Rove's office list, the analysis showed. That August, she attended three local Fraternal Order of Police meetings in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan to tout new overtime rules that would soon go into effect. Likewise, she traveled to Tampa -- another targeted media market -- to announce grants for recipients who actually lived in Jacksonville, Fla., a less competitive area.

Aside from her home town of Denver, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton visited just five cities in the first two months of 2004, according to the public announcements. But that pace changed between June and November, when -- in visits to 37 cities -- she hit the target election markets 32 times, the announcements show.

Those visits occurred after Interior liaison William Kloiber wrote to White House political affairs aide Matt Schlapp to thank him for a briefing about the political landscape. In an e-mail obtained by congressional investigators, Kloiber wrote, "Sometimes these folks need to be reminded who they work for and how their geographic travel can benefit the President."

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