President Joe Biden’s new Housing and Urban Development secretary, Marcia Fudge, violated the Hatch Act in March when she highlighted Democrats’ chances to win a U.S. Senate seat from Ohio in the 2022 election, according to the Office of Special Counsel.
The 1939 Hatch Act bans most partisan political activities by government officials while acting in their official capacity.
The Office of Special Counsel — an independent federal investigative agency — issued a Thursday letter on the matter to Americans for Public Trust, a nonpartisan watchdog group that had complained to the office about Fudge’s conduct that day.
According to a White House transcript of her March 18 briefing, the former House representative from Ohio was first asked to discuss who might take her place in Congress, but passed on making any comments about that race.
“How about the Senate race in your state?” a reporter asked. “Is there a Democrat that should run?”
“Oh, absolutely,” replied Fudge, a Democrat, who was then asked to identify the fellow Democrats she thought should run.
“Well, I have two friends that are thinking about it. Tim Ryan, of course, is thinking about it. I understand that Nan Whaley is thinking about it. I mean, I think we’re going to put a good person in that race, no matter who we choose. But they’re both friends,” she said.
“I think we have a good shot at it. I know people have written off Ohio. I haven’t written off Ohio. I believe we can win the Senate race,” she said.
The Office of Special Counsel said Fudge crossed a line.
“By stating, for example, that ‘we have a good shot at it’ and ‘I believe we can win the Senate race,’ Secretary Fudge showed support for the Democratic Party with respect to the Ohio Senate race while speaking in her official capacity,” the OSC letter to Americans for Public Trust said.
“Accordingly, OSC has concluded that she violated the Hatch Act during her official appearance at the March 18 press briefing,” the letter added.
However, Fudge was only given a warning. The letter explained why.
“But considering that shortly after the incident Secretary Fudge expressed remorse about her statement and that HUD ethics officials counseled her about the Hatch Act, OSC has closed this matter by issuing her a warning letter,” the OSC stated.
“Please note that Secretary Fudge has been advised that if in the future she engages in prohibited political activity we will consider such activity to be a willful and knowing violation of the law that could result in further action.”
Americans for Public Trust said in its letter of complaint that Fudge “used her first public appearance to express support for her political party’s chances in an upcoming Senate race.”
“The American people are entitled to trust in their government, knowing that political opining has no place during the performance of official business duties. Therefore, we respectfully urge OSC to investigate this matter and any potential violations of the Hatch Act and standards of government employees,” the letter said.
“Under the Hatch Act, if you are giving an official policy talk at the White House, you cannot talk about the prospects for the Democratic Party or Republican Party in an Ohio Senate race,” he said. “It’s completely inappropriate and would violate the Hatch Act.”
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