Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius violated federal law when she campaigned for President Obama during a speech denouncing the gay marriage ban in North Carolina earlier this year, a government investigation found.
“The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) sent findings to the President today from its investigation of complaints of prohibited political activity by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius,” the watchdog government agency announced today. “OSC concluded that Secretary Sebelius violated the Hatch Act when she made extemporaneous partisan remarks in a speech delivered in her official capacity on February 25, 2012. The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from using their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election.”
At the Human Rights Campaign Gala in North Carolina, Sebelius stumped for Obama during an official event touting the administration’s position on gay rights issues. Here’s the relevant passage of her speech, as taken from the OSC report, with OSC emphasis on the offending remarks:
This Administration is committed to keep working with you but I have to tell you, we have just begun, and a lot of what I have just explained could be wiped out in a heartbeat. So as Joe just said, 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. I know there is an important election in early May here in North Carolina and I think that it’s a great template to do what needs to be done to organize people and turn out people for November. North Carolina is hugely important in this next election, it’s hugely important to defeat Amendment One on the ballot in May and it’s hugely important to make sure that we reelect the President and elect a Democratic governor here in North Carolina . . . . (emphasis added).
Amendment One was a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union of one and one woman. The amendment passed in May with 60 percent support, just one day before President Obama announced his support for gay marriage.
Before the HRC gala, Sebelius received a breifing memo reminding her not to campaign in her official capacity, even suggesting that she dodge partisan questions by saying, “I’m here to represent the President and the Obama Administration, not in my personal capacity,” according to the OSC report.
HHS paid for the official event up front, but the Democratic National Committee reimbursed those funds when the department retroactively reclassified the gala as a campaign event in light of Sebelius’s impromptu plea for Obama.
Sebelius criticized OSC for deciding against her in this investigation. “I believe that you should have concluded that any violation was corrected when the event was reclassified as political,” she wrote in a letter to OSC. “lf there was a violation of the Hatch Act based on the use of my title, l believe the violation was technical and minor. These are not the type of violations that the Hatch Act is intended to address.”