The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) determined that Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm violated the Hatch Act by participating in political activity while being interviewed in her official capacity as a member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet.
The OSC was responding to an ethics complaint by a non-partisan ethics watchdog, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), from last October.
The complaint argued that Granholm violated the Hatch Act by making political remarks during an interview with Emily Tisch Sussman for a Marie Claire Instagram Live video while acting in her official capacity on October 6, 2021. It noted that while Granholm was introduced as the “Energy Secretary,” what she discussed quickly became political as she expounded on the importance of electing more Democrats to help pass Biden’s legislative agenda.
The Hatch Act prohibits executive branch employees and presidential appointees with Senate confirmation from using their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election. This includes using their official title while participating in political activity.
The OSC concluded that Granholm violated the Hatch Act because she “engaged in activity directed at the success of the Democratic Party during an interview she gave in her official capacity.” The OSC highlighted a specific part of the interview when she was asked, “How do we get involved in this moment to make sure we pass these things?”
The good news is that that [sic] marching and that voting gave Democrats a bare majority, but a majority, in the House in the Senate. And again, I am using Democrats as a substitute for the policies that you believe in, the policies that you would like to see happen. And what I say to people all the time is the most important thing you can do is make your voice heard. Vote! Put people in who agree with you. The arguments in DC right now wouldn’t be as tough as they are if we had just a couple more, just a couple more senators that agreed with us or just a couple more members of the House. So, continue to be out there, continue to elect people. Maybe you think about running for office. Continue to be out there and engage and know that public policy really matters. It is how you do the greatest good for the greatest number. And the only way you get policy you want is by putting people in office. By hiring the right people. They work for you. You can hire them; you can fire them. Let’s hire a few more.
While the OSC closed the case by issuing a warning letter to Granholm, the office advised that if she violates the Hatch again, she will be willfully and knowingly violating the law, and further action will be required.
The OSC chose this course of action after learning in its investigation that Granholm did not receive “significant training” on the Hatch Act. She has since received the relevant training following the Claire interview.
Watch the interview:
FACT’s Executive Director Kendra Arnold said in a statement that the “Hatch Act is a critical law that maintains separation between government and politics, both protecting the citizen’s trust in government and taxpayer dollars.”
“There is no doubt that Secretary Granholm spoke in her official capacity with the Department of Energy Seal displayed behind her, Arnold explained. “Further, she even acknowledged the Hatch Act and that it applied to her remarks, but, despite this, she made political statements and advocated for a political party’s candidates.”
As a result of the OSC’s decision, finding that Granholm did violate the Hatch Act, she added, “We are satisfied the Office of Special Counsel investigated thoroughly and found a clear violation in this case.”
A full copy of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel decision can be found here.