Updated 11:29 a.m. | The government watchdog group Cause of Action has alleged in a complaint to the Federal Election Commission that the Democratic National Committee misreported payments to the Health and Human Services Department following a 2012 trip by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that violated the Hatch Act.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel concluded in September that Sebelius had violated the 1939 Hatch Act, which restricts political activities by government employees, when she called for President Barack Obama’s re-election at a February 2012 rally in Charlotte, N.C..
The violation was “cured” when HHS subsequently reclassified the event as political and received reimbursement from the DNC, the OSC found. But documents obtained by Cause of Action through Freedom of Information Act requests suggest the matter is not closed, the watchdog group has charged.
Cause of Action maintains that the DNC, in reimbursing HHS for the trip, improperly reported the payment as an “operating expense” rather than as an independent campaign expenditure. The DNC also reimbursed HHS for travel expenses not just for Sebelius but also for her aide, AJ Pearlman. That suggests that Pearlman, too, violated the Hatch Act, Cause of Action alleges.
“While the President gave Secretary Sebelius a pass on the most high-profile Hatch Act violation in history, what has come to light in our investigation is that the reimbursement for her campaigning wasn’t properly filed by the DNC,” said Cause of Action Executive Director Dan Epstein in a statement.
DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse told The Washington Post that the complaint is “utter nonsense being peddled by right-wing partisans who have nothing better to do than dredge up an issue that has long since been resolved.” An HHS official declined to comment on a pending complaint.