Mixing Partisan Goals with Official Positions in the Trump Administration

It’s no secret that the Trump administration disregards ethics norms and the rule of law. CREW takes these challenges to our democracy seriously, and responds with legal action designed to hold those who abuse power accountable. The Hatch Act may be a previously overlooked area of the law, but is one that protects our democracy, ensuring that government officials do not use the power or resources of their government positions to win partisan political fights or advocate for an electoral outcome.

 

A Pattern Of Hatch Act Violations

Even after the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) reprimanded several Trump officials for engaging in political activity in their official positions and released more specific guidance for compliance, blatant violations of the Hatch Act continue. We’ve never seen this many repeated Hatch Act violations by senior officials of an administration in so short a time. It is clear that officials will violate the law until there are real consequences for doing so, which is why CREW continues to file complaints with OSC and advocate for stronger policies to hold officials accountable. 

Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway was twice reprimanded for violating the Hatch Act, and received ethics counseling over her use of her official position to promote Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. Conway’s repeated violations were so egregious that OSC issued a scathing report detailing her numerous violations and took the unprecedented step to recommend that Conway be removed from federal service. CREW joined in calling for her resignation, due to her publicly expressed disdain for the law and shameless pattern of disregard. CREW also released a petition calling for her resignation that has mobilized thousands of supporters. 

Several senior officials have received reprimands from OSC for violating the Hatch Act, including ten stemming from CREW complaints: Kellyanne Conway, Communications Director for the Office of the First Lady Stephanie Grisham, Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino Jr., Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah, Deputy Director of Communications Jessica Ditto, Executive Assistant to the President Madeleine Westerhout,  Director of Media Affairs Helen Aguirre Ferré, Press Secretary for Vice President Mike Pence Alyssa Farah, and OMB Deputy Communications Director Jacob Wood.

Types of Violations

Abuse of official positions for political advocacy is widespread in the Trump administration, ranging from tweets from officials’ government accounts using the president’s campaign slogan, to diverting official travel to attend events to help candidates in the midterm elections. CREW’s complaints to combat these violations encompass several senior officials, and CREW requested records from nearly every cabinet level agency. Since Trump’s presidential inauguration, CREW has filed complaints against 18 administration officials for using their official positions to advocate for partisan outcomes on social media or at events, including Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, several administration officials appear to have used their positions for political activity, including Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Seema Verma. CREW also filed Freedom of Information Act requests and requests for investigations with 18 agencies to ensure that taxpayers aren’t paying for administration officials to campaign for congressional candidates.

While several officials from across the administration have been reprimanded for using their positions for political activity, the problematic behavior continues with no signs of stopping. Only three days after OSC recommended that Kellyanne Conway be removed from federal service following her violations, Ivanka Trump tweeted about Trump’s election, in violation of the Hatch Act. CREW has filed several other complaints that are still outstanding. CREW is committed to tracking abuses of official positions in whatever form they come, and taking action to hold those who continue to violate the Hatch Act to account.

Requests for investigations of activity leading up to the midterm elections.
FOIA Requests on Trump Administration travel from 18 agencies.

Reprimanded for Hatch Act violations following CREW complaints:

Dan Scavino ComplaintReprimand
Nikki Haley ComplaintReprimand
Stephanie Grisham ComplaintReprimand
Raj Shah Complaint, Reprimand
Jessica Ditto Complaint, Reprimand
Madeleine Westerhout Complaint, Reprimand
Helen Aguirre Ferré Complaint, Reprimand
Alyssa Farah Complaint, Reprimand
Jacob Wood Complaint, Reprimand
Kellyanne Conway Complaint, Reprimand