At His Blog, ABC's Tapper Notes Obama's HHS Secretary Violated Hatch Act; Broadcast Networks Omit Story from Newscasts

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel informed President Obama yesterday that it found his controversial Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius violated the federal Hatch Act back in February. ABC News's Jake Tapper noted the finding in a September 12 Political Punch blog post at ABCNews.com, but World News editors apparently thought the matter unworthy of coverage last night. The story was also unreported on NBC's Nightly News and CBS's Evening News.

The Hatch Act forbids federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity and Sebelius did just that in off-the-cuff remarks as the keynote speaker at a February 25 gala for the Human Rights Campaign, Tapper noted (emphasis mine):


 

The event was billed as official travel, and she appeared at the event in an official capacity, but in her remarks – which departed from her official text – she advocated for the election of Lt. Governor Walter Dalton in his primary and general election race for governor, and for the re-election of President Obama, saying, “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.”

After media inquiries following those remarks, the Department of Health and Human Services “retroactively reclassified the event as political,” the OSC report states,and reimbursed the federal government for the costs of her travel.

When asked about her remarks in an interview with OSC investigators, the report says Sebelius “expressed regret for the statements” regarding Dalton “since there were ‘other primary opponents who were close by.’” She said her “‘shout out’ came across ‘as an endorsement.’” She allowed that her comments about President Obama were “a mistake” and an example of her again going “off script.” “I clearly made a mistake,” Sebelius said. “I was not intending to use an official capacity to do a political event.”

Yes, the OSC doesn't plan to recommend any disciplinary against Sebelius, and she did reimburse the government after the fact, but those facts could have been mentioned in her defense in a brief report in an evening newscast.

According to the OSC website, violating the Hatch Act usually results in termination of a job, unless the "Merit Systems Protection Board finds by unanimous vote that the violation does not warrant removal" in which case "a penalty of not less than a 30-day suspension without pay shall be imposed by direction of the Board."

In fairness, it should be noted that in January 2011, the OSC reported its findings that a few George W. Bush Cabinet secretaries had violated the Hatch Act during their tenure in office. No disciplinary action could be taken, however, as they had long-since vacated their posts with the arrival of the Obama administration.

If a current Cabinet-level administration official violating -- in a presidential reelection year no less -- the federal law that was designed to prevent government employees from partisan politicking isn't newsworthy to the broadcast media, what is?

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters