Is Marcia Fudge in trouble? Housing Secretary violated Hatch Act with remarks on Ohio politics: Investigators
The act prohibits federal employees below the policy-making level from taking 'any active part' in political campaigns
The secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Marcia Fudge, violated the Hatch Act earlier this year when she weighed in on the 2022 Ohio Senate election, as per a letter from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
In her first days on the job as President Joe Biden’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Fudge answered questions about Ohio politics at a White House press conference to discuss the American Rescue Plan, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel has found. According to a POLITICO story, in a Thursday, May 13, response to a complaint filed in March 2021 by Americans for Public Trust, the independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency has stated that it issued the former Warrensville Heights mayor and Congress member a warning letter for violating the law that bars federal employees from conducting political activities on official duty and on official government property.
Fudge allegedly landed in trouble after a group of reporters asked her to weigh in on Ohio races to succeed her in Congress and to succeed retiring US Sen. Rob Portman at the end of an appearance to discuss the rescue package’s efforts for the homeless. She didn't endorse her own successor but said she’s friends with both Niles Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who eventually entered the race -- and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley -- who ultimately chose to run for governor. “I think we’re going to put a good person in that race, no matter who we choose,” said Fudge. “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.”
Washington Post did a story on her, pointing at the impropriety of her comments after which Fudge issued a statement through HUD’s press office that said: “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. 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.”
A Republican watchdog group soon filed a complaint, which stated that Fudge should have used her appearance to “demonstrate to the American people that all individuals are respected, regardless of political leanings” instead of expressing “support for her political party’s chances in an upcoming Senate race."
“The American people are entitled to trust in their government, knowing that political opining has no place during the performance of official business duties,” the complaint continued.
The Office of Special Counsel reply to the watchdog said Fudge’s statements that “we have a good shot at it” and “I believe we can win the Senate race,” improperly showed support for the Democratic party while she spoke in her official capacity. It opted to close the matter by issuing her a warning letter after considering the remorse she expressed about her statement and the fact that HUD ethics officials counseled her about the Hatch Act. “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,” the letter said.
What is the Hatch Act?
According to Middle Tennessee State University: "The Hatch Act, an attempt to regulate corruption and possible intimidation of federal employees in the civil service by their elected supervisors, was enacted by Congress in 1939. The act banned the use of federal funds for electoral purposes and forbade federal officials from coercing political support with the promise of public jobs or funds. Sen Carl Hatch, D-N.M., introduced the act after learning that New Deal–era government programs, specifically the Works Progress Administration, were using federal funds overtly to support Democratic Party candidates in the 1938 elections."
The website also states that "The act prohibits federal employees below the policy-making level from taking “any active part” in political campaigns, such as running for office in partisan political campaigns, giving speeches on behalf of partisan political candidates, or soliciting money for such candidates. Critics charge that this law also limits First Amendment rights of expression."