HHS Secretary Sebelius violated federal law on politicking
posted at 1:01 pm on September 13, 2012 by Howard Portnoy
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has advised the White House that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is in violation of a federal law that restricts political activity by government officials. The National Review Online notes that during an appearance at the Human Rights Campaign’s gala in the battleground state of North Carolina on Feb. 25, Sebelius openly endorsed the state’s lieutenant governor in his campaign for governor and strongly advocated the re-election of President Obama:
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 … It’s hugely important to make sure that we reelect the president and elect a Democratic governor here in North Carolina.
The remarks violated the Hatch Act, a law that prohibits federal employees from using their official authority to influence an election, although it allows partisan remarks made in a personal capacity.
“While a violation of the Hatch Act occurred, Secretary Sebelius’ statements would have been permissible if they had been made in her personal capacity,” the OC report said.
Sebelius has responded via a statement to the effect that any violation was “technical and minor” and was corrected after her official trip was reclassified as political. Part of the “correction” was the reimbursement of the federal government of $2,514.50 to cover the the portion of the trip that was deemed political.
Now that the matter is before the president, he bound by statutory responsibility to take “appropriate action.” The presumptive penalty for a Hatch Act violation is termination from government employment, which, if challenged, can be reduced to a suspension of no less than 30 days without pay. Notably, a former U.S. attorney was suspended for 100 days last year for a violation that was considerably more nuanced than that by Sebelius.
This incident is not the first in which members of the Obama cabinet broke the law. In a little reported story, his secretaries of Labor and Education broke the law in January when they met with illegal aliens at the Department of Education. The statute they violated appears in Paragraph 1324, Chapter 12, under Title 8 of the U.S. Penal Code, which clearly states:
Any person who … knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, conceals, harbors, or shields from detection, or attempts to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, such alien in any place, including any building … shall be punished as provided in subparagraph (B).
The punishment specified is a fine or imprisonment for no more than 5 years, or both.
Neither Education Secretary Arne Duncan or Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was ever prosecuted.
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