HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge may have violated the Hatch Act when she made comments about a Senate race during a press briefing Thursday.
The Hatch Act limits the political activities of all federal civilian executive branch employees. Fudge was asked who may potentially fill the seat of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who will not seek reelection in 2022. She also advocated for Democrats in the contest.
"Well, I have two friends that are thinking about it," Fudge said. "Tim Ryan, of course, is thinking about that, understand and really is thinking about it. I mean, I think we're going to put a good person in that race no matter who we choose. 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."
Fudge, who was sworn in last week, told The Washington Post she should have refrained from answering the question.
"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," Fudge said in a statement on Friday night. "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."
Penalties for violating the Hatch Act include removal from federal service, suspension, reduction in grade, reprimand and a civil penalty of as much as $1,000.
A spokesperson for the Office of Special Counsel told CNN it was unable to comment or confirm whether a probe has been opened into Fudge’s comments.
“The Hatch Act prohibits officials from advocating for or against candidates in a partisan political election in their official capacity,” Jordan Libowitz, who serves as communications director for the non-partisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told the news outlet. “Talking about which candidates can win elections enters a dangerous territory. Our legal team is currently reviewing this situation for a possible violation, but whether or not there is one, it would be best for Cabinet secretaries to avoid the subject entirely.”
The OSC recommended senior adviser Kellyanne Conway be removed from federal service because she violated the rule so often. She was never reprimanded.
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