September 5, 2018
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly today asking these offices to review the apparent use of government resources to travel to and participate in official events for the purpose of supporting candidates in partisan races, which could violate the Hatch Act and other laws.
According to public reports, senior White House aides recently admitted that several official government events in which President Trump, members of his cabinet, and other administration officials participated are part of the president’s efforts to help Republican candidates in the coming midterm elections. On a call with reporters, an unnamed official bragged about members of the President’s Cabinet and senior staff participating in more than 35 events affecting congressional districts in the month of August. Senior administration officials named by White House staff include Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, as well as Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler. White House staff also admitted that President Trump traveled for official government events aimed at boosting vulnerable Republican incumbents. These actions appear to be directed toward the success or failure of candidates in partisan races and thus may constitute political activity prohibited by the Hatch Act.
The Hatch Act is intended to prevent federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity in their official capacities, including through official travel. Although the President is exempt from the Hatch Act, when his trips involve travel to both official and political events, the law requires that costs be split between the government and the campaigns to ensure that taxpayer funds are not being use to support partisan politics. The conduct to which White House officials have admitted regarding President Trump’s mixed travel and a coordinated effort to use official travel by senior administration officials to support Republican candidates raises concerns that Trump Administration officials are once again violating the Hatch Act and doing so at a much larger scale than previously known.
OSC should commence an immediate investigation into the Trump Administration’s conduct during the 2018 election cycle and take or recommend appropriate disciplinary action if government officials broke the law. Further, the White House Chief of Staff should ensure that any taxpayer funds expended for political activities by the President and other officials are appropriately reimbursed.