Former White House counsel associate Scott Coffina accused U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar of violating the Hatch Act during a recent campaign trip to Colorado. The Colorado Observer broke the story of the possible Hatch Act violation today. Salazar, along with Sen. Udall, Sen. Bennet, and Gov. Hickenlooper participated in an RV tour of Colorado in support of President Obama’s reelection.
As reported by the Colorado Observer, the Montrose County Democratic Party listed the RV tour stop featuring Salazar on its website. In the event listing Salazar was billed as the Secretary of the Interior, a possible violation of the Hatch Act’s prohibition on engaging in partisan political activity while acting in the capacity of a civil servant.
Media Trackers consulted legal sources familiar with Hatch Act violations who agreed to comment on background. Media Trackers’ source stated that if Salazar “took time off to go on the campaign trail, he will not have violated the Hatch Act.” The source continued saying, “If, however, he used government resources for the travel or was on the government clock, then Secretary Salazar, like Secretary Sebelius before him, would be guilty.” Media Trackers has filed a FOIA request with the Dept. of Interior to obtain Salazar’s calendar and travel arrangements surrounding the Obama RV tour.
While representatives at the Interior department have dismissed concerns, stating that Salazar was acting in his personal capacity, the Colorado Observer and Coffina raised a valid point. “Salazar broke the 1939 law by allowing his title to be used at a political rally in Montrose, Colo. on Oct. 5.” the article reads. “That’s a no-no. He’s allowed to do politics, but he’s not allowed to use his official title. That’s a serious violation. There’s no excuse for that.”
According to a September article from The Daily Caller, Hatch Act complaints have increased 144 percent since 2001. Warning letters issued by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for violation not egregious enough for prosecution have risen 178 percent in the same time.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was recently found to have violated the Hatch Act by endorsing a gubernatorial candidate during a speech she gave in her official capacity as HHS Secretary.
“Whenever you see a cabinet secretary out on stump attending what are obviously campaign events, one naturally worries that this is a potential Hatch Act violation.” said Sean Paige of Americans for Prosperity. “Of course it’s important to investigate and figure out details before any complaints are filed or official word is realized, but we can’t just ignore possible violations.”
Paige went on, “All this coming from an Administration that is already known as Hatch Act violator.”
When Media Trackers reached out to the Office of the Secretary for comment the official response was to call the communications department for the Dept. of Interior (DoI). The DoI communications shop refused to comment on the possibility of a Hatch Act violation occurring.
This post was originally featured at Media Trackers Colorado.