Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge violated the Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of nearly all federal employees, when she briefed reporters from the White House in March.
The Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the law, said Thursday that it had issued the former Democratic congresswoman a warning for remarks about her party’s chances of winning an open Senate seat in her home state of Ohio next year. Fudge mentioned specific potential candidates by name, including Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who is now officially running for the Senate seat.
“I think we have a good shot at it,” she said on March 18, referring to the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Rob Portman. “I know people have written off Ohio. I haven’t written off Ohio. I believe we can win the Senate race.”
It’s the kind of response that lawmakers routinely make, but it’s a no-no for executive officials when appearing in their official capacity.
A group called Americans for Public Trust logged a complaint about Fudge’s remarks.
“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 Office of Special Counsel wrote in a letter to Americans for Public Trust. “Accordingly, OSC has concluded that she violated the Hatch Act during her official appearance at the March 18 press briefing.”
But considering that she quickly expressed “remorse,” the office said it was closing the matter by issuing a warning letter.
“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,” the office said in its letter.
Violations of the Hatch Act are not uncommon, and members of the Trump administration, notably counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, were found to have violated the law repeatedly.
The Hatch Act prohibits the use of federal resources to promote partisan politics. Still, administration officials and executive branch personnel are permitted to engage in political activity — on their own time and on their own dime. An appearance at the White House podium is a clear problem, according to ethics experts.
Cabinet secretaries like Fudge, for example, would need to pay for their own travel to political events and do so on their personal time. Also, events where they appear for political purposes should not tout their titles.