Dr. Ben Carson was a campaign surrogate for candidate Donald Trump during the general election. He is now Housing and Urban Development Secretary for President Donald Trump.
Unfortunately, being both of those things at the same time may have just landed Carson in hot water.
The Daily Caller reports that simply by appearing at Trump’s Phoenix campaign rally last night, Carson most likely violated 1939 Hatch Act, which prohibits most cabinet secretaries and other executive branch officials from participating in partisan activity on behalf of the president they serve.
Further, Carson used “we” and “us” at several points in his speech that implied he was counting himself as part of the Trump campaign rather than the Trump administration.
Of course, the report goes on to note that it’s not uncommon for officials on both sides to fall into this trap:
Carson’s predecessor as HUD Secretary, Julian Castro, was sanctioned by OSC for a Hatch Act violation under similar circumstances in 2016. Castro gave an interview to Yahoo News in which he advocated for the election of Hillary Clinton and speculated as to his own chances for receiving the Democratic nomination for vice president. Though Castro explicitly emphasized he was not speaking in his capacity as HUD secretary, OSC concluded his efforts to distinguish between his personal and political roles were insufficient.
“Secretary Castro’s statements during the interview impermissibly mixed his personal political views with official agency business despite his efforts to clarify that some answers were being given in his personal capacity,” a letter from the OSC director to President Obama read.
In separate instances the OSC executed Hatch Act inquiries related to Obama-era HUD Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. The probes concluded Sebelius broke the law, but rendered no verdict as to Solis, who resigned during the course of the investigation for unrelated reasons.
So what does this mean for Carson? Probably nothing; the law leaves it up to the president’s discretion whether or not to sanction a subordinate for violating the Hatch Act.
However, one has to wonder how useful this law really is. Apart from the matter of it being toothless, is it really particularly scandalous that any president’s top nominees for his administration support that president and want to see him reelected?
It seems to this observer that the government has more important things to attend to, but what do you think? Repeal the Hatch Act, or start enforcing it? Share your thoughts in the comments!