Gov’t Watchdog Finds HUD Secretary Violated Ethics Rule

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) in Washington, D.C. has concluded that U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge violated a longstanding ethics law known as the “Hatch Act,” according to a letter obtained by Politico.

“As HUD Secretary, Ms. Fudge is covered by the Hatch Act, a law that governs the  political activity of federal executive branch employees,” the letter reads. “The Hatch Act prohibits covered employees from, among other things, using their official authority or influence for the purpose of  affecting the result of an election. For example, employees may not use their official title while engaging in political activity or their official position to advance or oppose candidates for partisan political office.”

While appearing at a press briefing at the White House in mid-March, Secretary Fudge was asked a range of questions by reporters including her thoughts on the upcoming U.S. Senate election in her home state of Ohio. Incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R) has chosen not to run for reelection in 2022, and a reporter asked Secretary Fudge her thoughts on Democrats’ chances to pick the seat up.

“I have two friends that are thinking about [running for Sen. Portman’s seat],” Secretary Fudge said from the podium in the White House press briefing room. “Tim Ryan of course is thinking about it, I understand Nan Whaley is thinking about it. […] 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.”

OSC has determined that Fudge’s answer to that question constituted an engagement in political activity while discharging the duties of her official role in the Biden administration, according to a letter submitted to Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of conservative 501(c)(3) organization Americans for Public Trust which submitted the original ethics complaint.

“[…] Secretary Fudge showed support for the Democratic Party with respect to the Ohio Senate race while speaking in her official capacity,” the letter reads in part. “Accordingly, OSC has concluded that she violated the Hatch Act during her official appearance at the March 18 press briefing. But considering that shortly after the incident Secretary Fudge expressed remorse about her statement and that HUD ethics officials counseled her about the Hatch Act, OSC has closed this matter by issuing her a warning letter.”

The letter goes on to explain that the secretary has been advised that future violations of the ethics rule would be considered by OSC to be “a willful and knowing violation of the law that could result in further action,” it says.

The remorse the letter alludes to is in reference to a statement made by the secretary the day after her appearance in the White House briefing room.

“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,” the secretary said in a statement to the Washington Post in March. “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.”

Last month, OSC issued a disciplinary action against former HUD Region II (New York/New Jersey) administrator Lynne Patton for a violation of the Hatch Act. Patton served during the administration of President Donald Trump, and has been barred from government employment for 48 months for participating in the creation of a political video while discharging her official duties.

After reaching out to HUD for comment on the OSC’s letter about Secretary Fudge, a spokesperson referred RMD back to the secretary’s aforementioned March comments to the Washington Post. Read the story at Politico.

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