A conservative group has filed an ethics complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) in Washington, D.C. against Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Marcia Fudge, contending that the Secretary engaged in political activity while making an appearance in her official capacity as an employee of the United States government. This is according to original reporting by Axios.
Last week during a press briefing at the White House, Secretary Fudge was asked a range of questions by reporters including her thoughts on the upcoming U.S. Senate election in her home state of Ohio. Incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R) has chosen not to run for reelection in 2022, and a reporter asked Secretary Fudge her thoughts on Democrats’ chances to pick the seat up.
“I have two friends that are thinking about [running for Sen. Portman’s seat],” Secretary Fudge said from the podium. “Tim Ryan of course is thinking about it, I understand Nan Whaley is thinking about it. […] I think we’re going to put a good person in that race no matter who we choose, but they’re both friends. 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.”
The OSC complaint, filed by 501(c)(3) organization Americans for Public Trust, contends that Secretary Fudge violated a longstanding ethics law known as the “Hatch Act,” which was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939.
“Secretary Fudge used her first public appearance to express support for her political party’s chances in an upcoming Senate race,” writes Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of Americans for Public Trust. “The American people are entitled to trust in their government, knowing that political opining has no place during the performance of official business duties.”
For her part, Secretary Fudge provided a statement the day after her appearance in the White House briefing room expressing regret for her statements related to the Senate race.
“When I was discussing getting relief to the American People and the American Rescue Plan from the briefing room on Thursday, I answered a question from a reporter related to Ohio politics,” the secretary said in a statement to the Washington Post. “I acknowledge that I should have stuck with my first instinct and not answered the question. I take these things seriously and I want to assure the American people that I am focused on meeting the needs of our country.”
The “Hatch Act of 1939, An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities,” named for Sen. Carl Hatch of New Mexico, is the source of the complaint. Section 2 of the law reads,
“It shall be unlawful for any person employed in any administrative position by the United States, or by any department, independent agency, or other agency of the United States (including any corporation controlled by the United States or any agency thereof, and any corporation all of the capital stock of which is owned by the United States or any agency thereof ), to use his official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting the election or the nomination of any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential electors Member of the Senate, or Member of the House of Representatives, Delegates or Commissioners from the Territories and insular possessions.”
This is not the first time that the Hatch Act has been invoked by critics of an American administration in recent years, as officials from the Donald Trump administration including Former Senior Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, Former Director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro, Former Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, and Former HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson have all been named in Hatch Act complaints filed with the OSC over the course of the previous administration, according to the Guardian.
Read the story at Axios.