Did Secretary Fudge Violate The Hatch Act?

Housing and Urban Development Secretary touched off a mini political storm last week when she answered a political question in the White House briefing room, raising concerns that she violated the Hatch Act in the process.

The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch employees from engaging political activity as part of their government work. They can do political work, but it must be separated from their government jobs.

Fudge was in the White House briefing room Thursday with Press Secretary Jen Psaki when she was asked by a reporter about the race to succeed her in Congress. She declined to answer, but was then asked about the Ohio Senate race.

Here is how she responded when asked if there were any Democrats who should seek the Senate seat, according to the White House transcript of the briefing:

“Well, I have two friends that are thinking about it,” Fudge said. “Tim Ryan, of course, is thinking about it. I understand that Nan Whaley is thinking about it. I mean, 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.”

That is where she ran afoul of the law, according to Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University who specializes in government ethics.

“At the White House briefing, Fudge promoted the goal of a Democrat winning the Ohio Senate seat. That, I believe, violated the Hatch Act,” she said in a Tweet. “This part of the Hatch Act does not apply to members of Congress. HUD Secretary Fudge is new to the executive branch, and thus new to this legal restriction. She needs to clean this up this mistake. She should not wait for an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel.”

Clark added, “And the Biden Administration needs to make sure that all its political appointees – especially former members of Congress – understand how the Hatch Act and other ethics laws apply to them.”

On Friday, Fudge told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that she should not have answered the political questions.

“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.”