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WASHINGTON, D. C. – Marcia Fudge violated the Hatch Act in her first days on the job as President Joe Biden’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary by answering questions about Ohio politics at a White House press conference to discuss the American Rescue Plan, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel has found.
In a Thursday response to a complaint filed in March by Americans for Public Trust, the independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency said it issued the former Warrensville Heights mayor and Congress member a warning letter for violating the law that bars federal employees from conducting political activities on official duty and on official government property.
Fudge ran afoul of the law when reporters asked her to weigh in on Ohio races to succeed her in Congress and to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Rob Portman at the end of an appearance to discuss the rescue package’s efforts to fight homelessness. She wouldn’t endorse her own successor, but said she’s friends with both Niles Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan — who eventually entered the race — and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley — who ultimately chose to run for governor.
“I think we’re going to put a good person in that race, no matter who we choose,” said Fudge. “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.”
After The Washington Post raised questions about the propriety of her comments, Fudge issued a statement through HUD’s press office that said: “When I was discussing getting relief to the American People and the American Rescue Plan from the briefing room on Thursday, I answered a question from a reporter related to Ohio politics. I acknowledge that 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.”
The Republican-led watchdog group filed a complaint soon after, which said Fudge should have used her appearance to “demonstrate to the American people that all individuals are respected, regardless of political leanings” instead of expressing “support for her political party’s chances in an upcoming Senate race.
“The American people are entitled to trust in their government, knowing that political opining has no place during the performance of official business duties,” the complaint continued.
The Office of Special Counsel reply to the watchdog said Fudge’s statements that “we have a good shot at it” and “I believe we can win the Senate race,” improperly showed support for the Democratic party while she spoke in her official capacity. It opted to close the matter by issuing her a warning letter after considering the remorse she expressed about her statement, and the fact that HUD ethics officials counseled her about the Hatch Act.
“Please note that Secretary Fudge has been advised that if in the future she engages in prohibited political activity we will consider such activity to be a willful and knowing violation of the law that could result in further action,” the letter said.
When asked if Fudge had any comment on the Office of Special Counsel warning, a HUD spokeswoman resent her initial statement.
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