Van Hollen, Brown, Colleagues Demand the Office of Special Counsel Investigate HUD Secretary Ben Carson for Possible Hatch Act Violation
Lawmakers Say Carson May Have Violated Both The Letter And Spirit Of The Hatch Act By Using Official Channels To Mass Distribute A Partisan Message
U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, joined Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs today in demanding the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) investigate whether Secretary Ben Carson of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), violated the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act limits the use of federal resources for certain political activities of federal employees. The lawmakers made clear that HUD’s decision to distribute Secretary Carson’s opinion piece entitled, “We’ll Protect America’s Suburbs” through official channels could be a violation of the Hatch Act. They urged the OSC to investigate the matter and if a violation is found to enforce the law.
“It appears as though Secretary Carson, may have knowingly violated the Hatch Act on August 16, 2020, by both publishing and sending a political message using government resources and employees,” wrote the lawmakers.
The letter was also signed by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Jack Reed (D-RI).
A copy of the letter appears here and below:
Dear Special Counsel Kerner:
We respectfully request that the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) investigate whether Secretary Benjamin S. Carson Sr., of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), violated the Hatch Act.
On March 2, 2017, Secretary Carson was sworn in as the 17th HUD Secretary. Secretary Carson serves as a Cabinet member and is the federal authority to the public on housing issues, policy, and oversees all of HUD’s programs. Additionally, Secretary Carson leads a 9,000 employee workforce.
According to HUD’s website, the Office of Public Affairs “strives to educate and keep the American people informed about the Department's mission to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.” On August 16, 2020, however, HUD’s Office of Public Affairs sent out a troubling message on behalf of Secretary Carson 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.”
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. We are concerned that Secretary Carson may have violated the law and misused government resources to mass distribute a partisan message.
The partisan message included calling out the Biden- Sanders Unity platform; labeling cities as “liberal-run” and “Democrat-run”; and, statements about the “left”.
The Hatch Act is an 80-year old law that limits certain political activities of federal employees, specifically prohibiting employees of the executive branch from using their official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election. Activities covered by this prohibition include the use of official title while participating in political activity. Further, political activity is an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.
The distribution of this opinion piece through an official federal communications channel appears to violate both the letter and spirit of the Hatch Act. 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, this 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 American people must have confidence that government officials are serving the public regardless of party affiliation. It appears as though Secretary Carson, may have knowingly violated the Hatch Act on August 16, 2020, by both publishing and sending a political message using government resources and employees.
It is deeply troubling that a Cabinet official would deliberately engage in Hatch Act violations. As you stated in your previous report on Kellyanne Conway’s conduct, actions that send a message to federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act “erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.”
We respectfully request that you conduct a thorough investigation of this incident and advise us of your findings. 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. Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your timely response.
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