Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius violated the Hatch Act when she made remarks in favor of re-electing President Obama while on an official trip to Charlotte in February, the Office of Special Counsel has ruled.
The Hatch Act "prohibits federal employees from using their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election," the OSC said in a statement announcing the ruling.
Sebelius made the remarks urging supporters to re-elect Obama and vote for a Democrat for governor during an official trip as HHS secretary to North Carolina in February.
"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," she said, according to the OSC report released Wednesday.
Although the Democratic National Committee later reimbursed the federal government for the cost of the trip and the purpose was changed from "official" to "political," the OSC still found the remarks constituted a violation of the law.
Sebelius said the ruling was "unfair" because the "violation was technical and minor." Although some Republican lawmakers are speaking out against the remarks, none have yet called for her resignation.
"This error was immediately acknowledged by the secretary, promptly corrected, and no taxpayer dollars were misused," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
The report now makes it way to the president's desk for his approval. Since neither he nor the OSC has not urged disciplinary action against Sebelius until now, she said she didn't "believe that any action would be appropriate."
However, Sebelius also took responsibility for the mistake, saying, "I regret making statements that converted my participation in the event from official to political. As I have also explained, keeping the roles straight can be a difficult task."
"Since this incident, I have met with the ethics attorneys at the Department to ensure that I have an accurate understanding of what types of statements are prohibited at an official event," she added.
Before the ruling, Sebelius returned to Charlotte last week in an unofficial capacity to speak on behalf of the president's re-election at the Democratic National Convention.
by RTT Staff Writer
For comments and feedback: email@example.com