The US Office of Special Counsel has concluded that Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge violated the Hatch Act, the law that limits the political activities of all federal civilian executive branch employees, when she commented on Ohio politics from the White House podium earlier this year.
Fudge, who joined White House press secretary Jen Psaki at a briefing in March, was asked about the special election to fill her vacant seat in Congress.
Though Fudge declined to weigh in on the House race, she told reporters she thought Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and US Rep. Tim Ryan, both Democrats, were strong candidates to fill the seat currently occupied by Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who announced in January he would not seek reelection when his current term ends in 2022. Both have since launched campaigns — Ryan for the Senate seat and Whaley for governor of Ohio.
According to the US Office of Special Counsel, the agency charged with investigating Hatch Act violations, the rule prohibits federal employees from “using their official titles or positions while engaged in political activity,” including “any activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.”
In a letter dated Thursday to a conservative watchdog group that had previously filed a complaint against Fudge, OSC concluded that she violated the Hatch Act and said she has been issued a warning.
“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 chief of OSC’s Hatch Act Unit, Ana Galindo-Marrone, wrote in the letter. “Accordingly, OSC has concluded that she violated the Hatch Act during her official appearance at the March 18 press briefing.”
Fudge issued a statement after the March briefing recognizing she shouldn’t have answered the question.
The OSC official said that because Fudge “expressed remorse” over her comments and was counseled by HUD ethics officials about the Hatch Act’s restrictions, “OSC has closed this matter by issuing her 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,” Galindo-Marrone continued.
OSC declined to comment. A HUD spokesperson pointed to Fudge’s previous March statement acknowledging she shouldn’t have answered the question.