Washington Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius violated a federal law that restricts political activity by government officials, a federal ethics office said in a report Wednesday.
Off-the-cuff remarks by Sebelius during a speech earlier this year to a gay rights group in North Carolina violated the Hatch Act, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said in a report to the White House. The law prohibits federal employees from using their official authority to influence an election, although it allows partisan remarks made in a personal capacity.
In the Feb. 25 speech to the Human Rights Campaign, Sebelius called for President Barack Obama’s re-election and endorsed a Democratic candidate Walter Dalton for governor. Later, she rescinded the gubernatorial endorsement.
The ethics office found that Sebelius had made the speech in her official capacity as the nation’s top health official, but departed from her prepared text and veered into politicking.
“While a violation of the Hatch Act occurred, Secretary Sebelius’ statements would have been permissible if they had been made in her personal capacity,” the report said.
In a formal response, Sebelius said that any violation was “technical and minor” and was corrected after her official trip was reclassified as political, and the government was repaid for her travel.