The Office of Special Counsel notified President Barack Obama on Wednesday that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius violated the Hatch Act when she “made extemporaneous partisan remarks in a speech delivered in her official capacity” during a speech before the Human Rights Campaign earlier this year.
But “appropriate and timely steps” taken by HHS to ensure the government was reimbursed for all travel costs had “cured any violation” of a statute which bans the U.S. Treasury from paying for the costs of the political activity, according to the OSC report.
During the February speech in North Carolina, Sebelius went off-script and said it was “hugely important to make sure that we reelect the President and elect a Democratic governor here in North Carolina,” according to the OSC report.
HHS “retroactively reclassified the event as political” two days after the trip and said the federal government would not be paying for it, according to the report. Sebelius explained to OSC investigators that she “got a little caught up in the notion that the gains which had been made would clearly not continue without the President’s reelection.”
Sebelius told the investigators she was “not intending to use an official capacity to do a political event. I think it veered into political space at an official event and I regret that it occurred.”
Late update: White House spokesman Eric Schultz told the Associated Press that the remarks were “extemporaneous” and said the U.S. Treasury “has been reimbursed, and Secretary Sebelius has met with ethics experts to ensure this never happens again.”