HHS Secretary Sebelius Remarks at HRC Event Violated Federal Law

Posted by Justin Snow
September 13, 2012 4:48 PM |

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was found in violation of a federal law on Wednesday for comments she made at a Human Rights Campaign event in February.

sebelius.jpgAccording to federal investigators, Sebelius violated the Hatch Act when she advocated for President Barack Obama's re-election while attending an event in her official capacity as a cabinet officer. Federal law prohibits certain employees of the executive branch from using their office to engage in partisan political activity.

During her appearance at the HRC event in Charlotte, N.C., earlier this year, Sebelius warned that progress made on LGBT rights under the Obama administration would be "wiped out in a heartbeat" if the president is defeated in November.

"One of the imperatives is 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 because this effort has just begun," Sebelius said, according to a report by the Office of Special Counsel.

Investigators said Sebelius, the former Democratic governor of Kansas who was sworn in as HHS secretary in April 2009, violated the more than 70-year-old law by making "extemporaneous political remarks" and referred the case to Obama for "appropriate action."

After the February event, Sebelius's office quickly reclassified the trip from "official" to "political" in order to remedy the situation. The Democratic National Committee also reimbursed the government for the cost of the trip. 

Sebelius took issue with the charges against her, which were spearheaded by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and asked the Office of Special Counsel to investigate Sebelius's comments.

Although Sebelius acknowledged that her comments were a mistake, in a Sept. 7 letter to the Office of Special Counsel Sebelius stated any violation was "technical and minor."

"These are not the type of violations that the Hatch Act is intended to address," Sebelius wrote.

Republicans were quick to pounce on the report, including Sen. Orrin Hatch. According to The Hill, a spokesperson for the Utah Republican said Sebelius's violation of federal law was "disturbing, but hardly a surprise."

"Since almost day one, this administration has had a singular focus on politicking — not governing — that's borne out by the secretary ignoring a strict prohibition on electioneering while working for federal taxpayers," the spokesperson said.

However, it appears unlikely Obama will take further action against Sebelius. In a statement provided to Metro Weekly, White House spokesperson Eric Schultz said the Obama administration holds itself to the "highest ethical standards" and defended Sebelius.

"As the Office of Special Counsel has noted, these were extemporaneous remarks, the Health and Human Services Department has since reclassified the event to meet the correct standard, the US Treasury has been reimbursed, and Secretary Sebelius has met with ethics experts to ensure this never happens again," Schultz said. "This error was immediately acknowledged by the Secretary, promptly corrected, and no taxpayer dollars were misused."

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