HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits certain political activity, when she made “extemporaneous partisan remarks” during a speech in her official capacity earlier this year, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel
During a speech to the Human Rights Campaign Gala in North Carolina in February, Sebelius said North Carolina Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton “needs to be the next governor of North Carolina.” She also outlined the Obama administration’s accomplishments so far and said: “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.”
The Office of Special Counsel said she made the political remarks in her capacity as a federal employee and thus violated the Hatch Act. If Sebelius had made those remarks in her personal capacity, they would have been acceptable.
After that appearance, Sebelius had the event reclassified from official to political, and done in her personal capacity, in an attempt to avoid a Hatch Act violation. She and HHS also reimbursed the Treasury Department for all the costs associated with the trip. At least some of the cost was picked by the Democratic National Committee, according to the OSC.
But the OSC said the reclassification doesn’t mean the violation didn’t occur, particularly because the gala was advertised using Sebelius’s HHS title.
“OSC concluded that Secretary Sebelius violated the Hatch Act by making extemporaneous political remarks,” OSC Special Counsel Carolyn N. Lerner wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama. “As the upcoming elections approach, this report offers an opportunity to remind federal employees of the complex Hatch Act restrictions.”
Sebelius told the OSC that the endorsements of Obama and the government were unscripted and a “mistake.” OSC quoted her as saying that she “got a little caught up in the notion that the gains which had been made would clearly not continue without the president’s reelection.” Sebelius, in her response, said the ruling was “somewhat unfair” and the use of her title amounted to a “technical and minor” violation.
She said that OSC should have concluded that the violation was “corrected” when the event was reclassified as political. OSC said that by reimbursing the Treasury, she didn’t violate rules prohibiting government-funded political events, but it didn’t correct the prohibition on making political statements in an official role.