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House committee to probe Sebelius soliciting money for ObamaCare signups

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FILE: June 20, 2012: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks at Covenant Community Care Inc. in Detroit. (AP)

House Republicans are starting a probe into Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius soliciting donations from companies her agency might regulate, to help sign up uninsured Americans for ObamaCare.

Sebelius in recent weeks has asked various charitable foundations, businesses executives, churches and doctors to donate money to nonprofit organizations, such as Enroll America, that are helping to implement President Obama's health care overhaul.

The agency said Friday there is a special section within the Public Health Services Act that allows the secretary to solicit financial support for nonprofit organizations conducting public health work.

However, the solicitations, through speeches and phone calls, have raised questions about whether a federal official can ask for money from groups he or she oversees.

The Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee began a probe by sending a letter Monday to Sebelius and groups that she might have contacted.

The letter to Sebelius asks her to provide several pieces of information by May 27 related to the solicitations, including names of those contacted “in this unusual fundraising pitch” as well as phone logs and whether other agency officials were involved.

Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said: “Despite HHS’ insistence that the secretary did not directly ask for funds, one source said, ‘There was a clear insinuation by the administration that the insurers should give financially to the nonprofits.’ ”

The 11 companies receiving letters include insurance groups Cigna, Kaiser Permanente, United Healthcare and Blue Shield of California.

“Please describe the substance of the communications,” the letter states in part.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.