A formal complaint against White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has been filed by Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a non-partisan, nonprofit organization for the advancement of democracy, for allegedly violating the Hatch Act in an interview on Fox News on Monday.
The Hatch Act is meant “to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation,” according to the Office of Special Counsel. The law prevents most executive branch employees, excluding the President and Vice President, from endorsing or attacking political candidates while using their official titles.
When asked in a "Fox and Friends" interview about Roy Moore, the accused child molester running for Senate in Alabama, Conway evaded the question and began making disparaging remarks about his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.
"Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don't be fooled. He’ll be a vote against tax cuts. He’s weak on crime. Weak on borders. He's strong on raising your taxes. He’s terrible for property owners,” said Conway in the interview. “And Doug Jones is a doctrinaire liberal which is why he’s not saying anything and why the media are trying to boost him.”
Her comments led Walter Shaub, a former director of the United States Office of Government Ethics under President Obama, and current Senior Director of Ethics of CLC to post the following tweet:
I found the video. She’s standing In front of the White House. It seems pretty clear she was appearing in her official capacity when she advocated against a candidate. This is at least as clear a violation of 5 U.S.C. § 7323(a)(1) as OSC identified with regard to Castro. pic.twitter.com/EwTwPriaVX
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) November 21, 2017
“She’s standing In front of the White House,” he said in the tweet, referring to Conway. “It seems pretty clear she was appearing in her official capacity when she advocated against a candidate.” The following tweet was posted by CLC’s official account on Wednesday:
CLC has filed a Hatch Act complaint against Kellyanne Conway for using her official White House title to advocate for a political candidate. https://t.co/l2QMxkN9n4 — CampaignLegalCenter (@CampaignLegal) November 22, 2017
Richard W. Painter, an ethics chief under the George W. Bush administration, also denounced Kellyanne Conway's interview as a Hatch Act violation, tweeting, "This is an official interview. She has violated the Hatch Act by using her position to take sides in a partisan election. That is a firing offense. And for her this is strike two."
This is an official interview. She has violated the Hatch Act by using her position to take sides in a partisan election. That is a firing offense. And for her this is strike two. https://t.co/U4kjbLu4NT
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) November 22, 2017
As Painter's tweet might suggest, Conway has been no stranger to ethics complaints. She was “‘counseled’ on federal ethics rules” after urging viewers to shop Ivanka Trump’s brand in an interview on Fox News back in February.
Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson also raised eyebrows back in August when he was introduced by his government title at a campaign rally for President Trump’s reelection. But a spokesperson denied that the Hatch Act was violated, saying in a statement that “He did not hear his name before he was cued to go on. We are consulting with our Ethics Office on the matter to ensure it doesn’t occur again.”
What the consequences are for Conway remains to be seen. When Trump's social media director violated the Hatch Act earlier this year, federal officials simply let him off with a warning.