A former high-ranking official with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) during the administration of President Donald Trump was found to have violated a key ethics rule, and has been barred from government employment for 48 months in a disciplinary action according to an announcement from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
Lynne Patton, who served as Region II (New York/New Jersey) administrator for HUD from 2017 to January 2021, admitted the violation of the Hatch Act as a condition of the action in her role creating a political video which was presented at 2020’s Republican National Convention (RNC) in the effort to re-elect the former president to a second term.
The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity while performing duties as an employee of the United States government.
“As part of the agreement, Patton admitted to violating the Hatch Act by using her official position to produce a video about housing conditions for the RNC,” the OSC statement about the decision reads. “As a HUD employee, Patton received permission in early 2019 to temporarily live in and observe living conditions in the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). During her approximately one-month stay, Patton met residents and later leveraged one of these relationships to recruit participants to film a video that would air at the RNC.”
Patton sought for NYCHA residents to explain how their standard of living had improved under the administration of President Trump for the video to be presented at the RNC, according to the OSC statement.
“By using information and NYCHA connections available to her solely by virtue of her HUD position, Patton improperly harnessed the authority of her federal position to assist the Trump campaign in violation of the Hatch Act,” the OSC statement reads. “Per the terms of the settlement agreement, Ms. Patton admitted that she engaged in conduct which violated the Hatch Act’s use of official authority prohibition and agreed to accept a 48-month debarment from federal employment and pay a $1,000 civil fine.”
Shortly after the video segment aired at the RNC on national television, one subject interviewed for it described that she was “tricked” by Patton into appearing in a video for the political convention and was only told that the interview she sat for was for the Republican Party after it was finished, according to reporting at the New York Times in August, 2020. The subject who spoke with the Times claimed that the joint interview with other participants lasted several hours, while the final segment clocks in at just over two minutes and 30 seconds.
Other Trump administration officials have come under fire and have had OSC complaints filed against them for alleged violations of the Hatch Act, 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, according to the Guardian.
The criticism is not exclusive to one party, as incumbent HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge recently had a Hatch Act complaint filed against her for making political statements in support of Democrats in an upcoming Ohio Senate race during a press briefing at the White House last month. However, the Biden transition formulated a more rigorous ethics plan than their predecessors, which appears aimed at avoiding Hatch Act violations specifically. Secretary Fudge has since acknowledged that her statements appeared improper.
“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,” she told the Washington Post in a statement.