May 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Independent watchdog: HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge violated Hatch Act

Photo of Marcia Fudge speaking from the White House podium
The March 18 White House press briefing, where HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge spoke on Ohio's Senate race. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

An independent federal investigative agency said Thursday that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge violated the Hatch Act in March when the former Ohio congresswoman weighed in on the state's 2022 Senate election.

Why it matters: It appears to be the first Hatch Act violation under the Biden administration, per Politico. The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity.

How we got here: In a White House press briefing on March 18, Fudge initially declined to comment on who should take over her district's open congressional seat. A reporter then asked about the Senate race in Ohio.

  • Fudge, a Democrat, named two friends: Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who were both considering a run at the time. Ryan has since launched a Senate bid, while Whaley is campaigning for Ohio governor.
  • "I mean, I think we’re going to put a good person in that race, no matter who we choose," she said. "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."
  • Americans for Public Trust, a conservative watchdog, promptly filed a complaint about her comments.
  • The day after the briefing, Fudge said in a statement she should not have answered the question.

What they're saying: "By stating, for example, that 'we have a good shot at it' and 'I believe we can win the Senate race,' Secretary Fudge showed support for the Democratic Party with respect to the Ohio Senate race while speaking in her official capacity," Ana Galindo-Marrone, chief of OSC's Hatch Act Unit, said in a letter to Americans for Public Trust.

  • The chief said HUD ethics officials had "counseled" Fudge on adhering to the Hatch Act and that the case is now closed since Fudge expressed remorse.
  • "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."

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to clarify that Nan Whaley is running for governor, not the Senate seat.

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