Office of Special Counsel Says HHS Secretary Violated Hatch Act
President Obama was notified today by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel that one of his key Cabinet officials violated the Hatch Act, the law that restricts the political activity of anyone employed or holding office in the Executive Branch except for the President and Vice President.
Carolyn Lerner, head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel concluded that Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius violated the Hatch Act when she served as the Guest of Honor and Keynote Speaker at the February 25, 2012 gala for the pro-gay rights Human Rights Campaign in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The event was billed as official travel, and she appeared at the event in an official capacity, but in her remarks - which departed from her official text - she advocated for the election of Lt. Governor Walter Dalton in his primary and general election race for governor, and for the re-election of President Obama, saying, "one of the imperatives is to make sure that we not only come together here in Charlotte to present the nomination to the president, but we make sure that in November he continues to be president for another four years."
After media inquiries following those remarks, the Department of Health and Human Services "retroactively reclassified the event as political," the OSC report states,and reimbursed the federal government for the costs of her travel.
When asked about her remarks in an interview with OSC investigators, the report says Sebelius "expressed regret for the statements" regarding Dalton "since there were 'other primary opponents who were close by.'" She said her "'shout out' came across 'as an endorsement.'" She allowed that her comments about President Obama were "a mistake" and an example of her again going "off script." "I clearly made a mistake," Sebelius said. "I was not intending to use an official capacity to do a political event."
Lerner did not recommend that any action be taken against Sebelius.
In a letter to Lerner , Sebelius seemed to take issue with the some of the report, noting that she reimbursed the U.S. Treasury for related expenses. It "seems somewhat unfair to conclude that, as a result of my off-hand statements, I used my official title for political purposes," she wrote, saying "the violation was technical and minor. These are not the type of violations that the Hatch Act is intended to address."
Sebelius said she told the USC investigators that while she regretted making the statements that converted my participation in the event from official to political…keeping the roles straight can be a difficult task, particularly on mixed trips that involved both campaign and official stops on the same day."