Independent federal legal officials have concluded that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius violated federal law by conducting political activity “in an official capacity,” according to a statement released on Wednesday.
“Sebelius violated the Hatch Act when she made extemporaneous partisan remarks in a speech delivered in her official capacity on February 25, 2012,” the news release from the U.S. Office of Special Council states.
The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from using their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election. A federal employee is permitted to make partisan remarks when speaking in their personal capacity, but not when using their official title or when speaking about agency business.
After the event, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reclassified the trip from official to political and issued a statement to that effect. Secretary Sebelius and HHS reimbursed the U.S. Treasury for all costs and expenses associated with her travel to the event. OSC found no evidence that Secretary Sebelius made any other political statements in her official capacity.
The Obama administration’s decision to allow cabinet secretaries such as Sebelius to speak at events sponsored by large Democratic electioneering groups has raised other Hatch Act concerns.