CONTACT: Jenna Grande
Washington—During a speech about the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue appears to have violated the Hatch Act after making pointed political comments in support of President Trump and his re-election efforts, according to a complaint sent today to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Several of Perdue’s statements during the event, including those that encouraged Americans to vote for President Trump, constitute the type of political activity prohibited by the Hatch Act.
Perdue padded his speech with several references to the 2016 election and the upcoming 2020 general election, stating that, “…those were a part of those forgotten people that voted for you for 2016. And I’ve got better news for you: they and many others are gonna vote for you for four more years in 2020.”
Later on in his speech, after discussing the origin of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, Perdue went on to state, “We’ve never seen an outpouring of compassion like that for people who matter, because people matter to you. And that’s what’s important to me. And that’s what’s gonna continue to happen — four more years — if America gets out and votes for this man, Donald J. Trump.” His comments immediately prompted a chant of “four more years!” from the audience.
“The Hatch Act is intended to prevent federal employees from engaging in this exact kind of partisan political activity while on duty, and yet officials like Secretary Perdue appear to take pride in their public and deliberate illegal conduct,” said CREW Deputy Director Donald Sherman. “Secretary Perdue’s behavior is beyond inappropriate for someone in his position, and OSC ought to quickly investigate his behavior and take steps to hold him accountable under the law.”
Perdue’s full remarks were streamed by both his own official government Twitter account and the official White House Twitter account. Later on, the Trump campaign posted the video of the event on Twitter. The @TeamTrump Twitter account notes that it is the “official Twitter account for the Trump Campaign.” The following day, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a press release highlighting Perdue’s attendance at the event, which publicized excerpts from his remarks.
The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch employees from “us[ing their] official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” “Political activity” is defined as “an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.”
“Our government officials, especially those in non-elected, appointed positions like Secretary Perdue, should go above and beyond to assure the public they are acting in accordance with the law,” said Sherman. “Secretary Perdue’s blatant disregard for the Hatch Act and longstanding ethics rules is just another example of this administration’s attacks on the foundation of our democracy.”
CREW’s complaints have led to an unprecedented number of Trump administration officials being reprimanded for Hatch Act violations, including Dan Scavino, Nikki Haley, Stephanie Grisham, Raj Shah, Jessica Ditto, Madeleine Westerhout, Helen Aguirre Ferre, Alyssa Farah, Jacob Wood, Kellyanne Conway and Lynne Patton. Following CREW’s complaints against Kellyanne Conway, OSC took the unprecedented step of recommending Conway be removed from federal service in a scathing report detailing her numerous ethics violations.