OCS: Sebelius Engaged in Illegal Political Activity

Published September 17, 2012

According to a new government report, President Obama’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, engaged in illegal political activity in violation of the Hatch Act, which bars government employees from partisan political activity while in their official capacities.

The report from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) stems from a February speech Sebelius gave to the Human Rights Campaign, a liberal group, at an event in North Carolina. Sebelius’ speech included lines urging the crowd 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.” Sebelius also said “it’s hugely important to make sure that we reelect the President and elect a Democratic governor here in North Carolina.”

According to John Malcolm, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, Sebelius’s activity is clearly against the law.

“HHS Secretary Sebelius committed a serious violation of the Hatch Act when she traveled to North Carolina, at taxpayer expense, and gave a speech to an organization that represents gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals in which she urged the attendees to elect a Democratic governor in that state and told them that their rights would be ‘wiped out in a heartbeat’ if President Obama is not reelected,” Malcolm said. “The Hatch Act has been on the books since 1939, and every federal official is advised about its prohibitions against government employees engaging in partisan political activity.”

Retroactively Re-Categorized Remarks

According to the OSC report, Sebelius’s staff retroactively re-categorized the Human Rights Campaign event as “political” in the wake of media reports on her remarks. Malcolm says this is insufficient.

“Although the Secretary’s trip has now been reclassified from ‘official’ to ‘political’ and the taxpayers have been reimbursed for the costs of that trip, this was a necessary but insufficient response. The matter has now been referred by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to the President for ‘appropriate action,'” Malcolm said. “At the very least, this should result in a reprimand.

“It is important to reaffirm that public service is way more important than partisan politics, and that high-level public officials must take special care to assure the public that taxpayer dollars are spent to serve their interests, not the interests of a particular candidate or political party,” he added.

Malcolm said although Hatch Act violations are not typically firing offenses, they do result in reprimands, and Sebelius is one of the most prominent cabinet members to run afoul of the law in recent years.

“Secretary Sebelius is, of course, entitled to her personal opinions and her constitutional right to free speech,” Malcolm said. “Nonetheless, government officials are supposed to serve the interests of all Americans, not just Democrats or Republicans, and in her zeal to help her political party, she blurred what should have been a clear distinction between her personal beliefs and her actions as a public official.”