By SAM HANANEL
WASHINGTON (AP) – The top lawyer at the National Labor Relations Board violated federal ethics rules by helping investigate a case involving Wal-Mart Stores Inc. despite holding a financial interest in the company, the board’s inspector general has found.
NLRB Inspector General David Berry issued a report Thursday finding that general counsel Lafe Solomon took part in discussions about whether Wal-Mart’s social media policy violated the law even though Solomon owned about $18,000 worth of Wal-Mart stock.
Federal rules prohibit government officials from participating “substantially” in cases if they own stock worth $15,000 or more and the matter affects the official’s financial interest “in any measurable way.”
The report was released late Friday by two GOP-led House committees, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Education and the Workforce Committee.
Solomon’s attorney, William Taylor III, has denied the allegations. In a letter to the inspector general on Friday, Taylor said Solomon “did not commit even a technical violation of the applicable ethics rules.”
President Barack Obama named Solomon acting general counsel of the board in June 2010.
The report said Solomon sought a waiver of the ethics rules on Jan. 30, but only after he attended an initial meeting about the Wal-Mart case a week earlier. The waiver was denied and Solomon later sold his shares in the company.
During the initial meeting, Solomon directed board staff to contact Wal-Mart in an effort to get the company to change its social media policy so the board would not have to issue a formal complaint, the report said. NLRB attorneys had concluded that Wal-Mart’s policy restricting what workers could say on social media was overly restrictive.
Solomon’s attorney, Taylor, said the report greatly overstates Solomon’s role in a 10-minute meeting and that Solomon was simply outlining the board’s options. But Taylor also said that, in hindsight, Solomon acknowledges the best course would have been for him to have had no involvement in the Wal-Mart case at all.
Wal-Mart ultimately changed its policy and the board never filed a complaint.
The inspector general’s report found no evidence that Solomon acted with intent to enrich himself. In a prepared statement, Solomon said he did “everything I could to follow the rules and regulations so that I could fulfill my duties free of any perceived conflict.”
House Oversight committee chairman Darrel Issa, who has tangled with Solomon over NLRB policy before, said the report “calls into question his integrity and that of the agency.”
The report will be forwarded to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to pursue further action.