Democratic senators say the HUD secretary may have violated the Hatch Act
Six Democratic senators, including Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are demanding that a government watchdog investigate whether Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson violated election laws.
In a Monday letter to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), Brown and Warren – along with senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) – demanded an investigation into whether an opinion piece co-authored by Carson and President Donald Trump violated the Hatch Act, which limits the use of federal resources for political activities.
The opinion piece, “We’ll Protect America’s Suburbs”, was published Aug. 16 in The Wall Street Journal. However, HUD also disseminated the piece through official channels, which the lawmakers said could constitute a Hatch Act violation.
On the day the piece was published, HUD’s Office of Public Affairs sent out a message entitled “In Case You Missed It…OPINION: We’ll Protect America’s Suburbs: We reject the ultraliberal view that the federal bureaucracy should dictate where and how people live.”
The article was unabashedly partisan, and included partisan criticism of the Biden-Sanders unity platform, the labeling of cities as “liberal-run” and “Democrat-run”, and negative statements about “the left”, which Trump and Sanders said governed “dysfunctional” cities. It’s those partisan statements, the senators wrote, that – when combined with the piece’s distribution through official HUD channels – may constitute a violation of the law.
“As the public face of a Cabinet-level Department, Senate-confirmed officials and all officials at HUD must uphold the law as well as the ideals of public office,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are concerned that Secretary Carson may have violated the law and misused government resources to mass distribute a partisan message.”
The 80-year-old Hatch Act specifically prohibits employees of the executive branch from using their official authority to interfere with an election. Activities covered by that prohibition include use of the employee’s official title while participating in political activity.
“The distribution of this opinion piece through an official federal communications channel appears to violate both the letter and the spirit of the Hatch Act,” the senators wrote. “The letter makes repeated references to the President’s opponent in the current election and echoes the messages the President is using repeatedly in his campaign. Also troubling, the message appears to have been distributed on a list that includes HUD grantees, who could fear retaliation if they do not adhere to the Trump Administration’s opinions.”
The lawmakers wrote that it appeared to them that Carson may have knowingly violated the Hatch Act by “publishing and sending a political message using government resources.”
“It is deeply troubling that a Cabinet official would deliberately engage in Hatch Act violations,” the senators wrote. They called on the OSC to investigate Carson and HUD to determine if a violation occurred.
“If a Hatch Act violation is found, those who violated the law must reimburse taxpayers the money spent to support using public resources for political purposes,” they wrote.