President Donald Trump and other top Republicans may be debating the future of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, but one thing they won’t be able to hold over Cordray’s head is a violation of federal election laws.
Over the last few months, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and other Republican groups called for an investigation of Cordray for allegedly violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees and cabinet members from using their official position to influence an election.
At issue is whether Cordray used his position at the CFPB or his government email and phone to communicate in any way about Cordray’s rumored bid for Ohio governor.
As it turns out, the Office of Special Counsel did indeed initiate an investigation into whether Cordray violated the Hatch Act, and told Cordray last month that the investigation found “no evidence” that he violated the Hatch Act.
“The U.S. Office of Special Counsel completed its investigation into allegations that you violated the Hatch Act by being a candidate in the 2018 Ohio gubernatorial election while employed as the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” Erica Hamrick, deputy chief of the OSC’s Hatch Act Unit, said in a letter to Cordray. “As explained below, OSC found no evidence that you have violated the Hatch Act.”
Hamrick’s letter states that as the CFPB director, Cordray is subject to the provisions of the Hatch Act, including being prohibited from running for the nomination or as a candidate for election to a partisan political office.
According to the letter, the Hatch Act prohibition against candidacy “extends not merely to the formal announcement of candidacy but also to the preliminaries leading to such announcement and to canvassing or soliciting support or doing or permitting to be done any act in furtherance of candidacy.”
That basically means that a federal employee cannot take any action that can viewed as launching a political campaign in any formal manner.
Some of the actions that fall into that category are: soliciting political contributions, conducting meetings about campaign activities, and holding a press conference to discuss one’s candidacy.
Acceptable activities include “merely discussing with family or close friends the possibility of running; fact-finding to learn what would be required to run; or making inquiries to understand the current political landscape.”
According to the OSC, its investigation found that Cordray did not engage in any of the prohibited activities.
“The complaints OSC received alleged that you violated the Hatch Act by engaging in preliminary activities regarding a candidacy for Governor of Ohio,” Hamrick writes. “OSC’s investigation, however, found no evidence that you have engaged in any of the types of preliminary activities directed toward candidacy that would violate the Hatch Act. Accordingly, we are closing our file without further action.”
And with that, Cordray is off the Hatch Act hook and on to the next fight.