Sebelius ran afoul of the Hatch act in February, when she endorsed a gubernatorial candidate while delivering official remarks at a Human Rights Campaign event. The remarks were made off the cuff, the White House says, and the Obama campaign and Democratic National Committee have since reimbursed the federal government for costs associated with the event.

But the Sebelius episode brings up two issues: how the administration and the campaign divide up the costs when officials speak at political events, and whether it makes sense to dispatch executive-branch officials to such events in the first place, Painter said. …

But the line between official speech and political speech isn’t always easy to draw when an incumbent faces reelection. “How do you know whether someone’s on duty or not?” said Kathleen Clark, professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis. Even when a trip is classified as “unofficial,” Sebelius never stops being head of HHS.