Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2012 / 16:02 pm
A federal investigative agency has determined that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has violated federal law by using her official position to advocate the re-election of President Obama, and the election of another Democratic candidate.
The announcement has prompted calls from The Catholic Association for the secretary's resignation.
"This shows yet again that her adherence to partisanship supersedes her professional integrity," said Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association.
McGuire told CNA on Sept. 14 that Sebelius' actions show a disregard for federal law and raise serious concerns due to the authority that she wields over the process of health care reform.
On Sept. 12, the Office of Special Counsel sent a report to President Obama with the findings of an investigation which determined that Sebelius violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their official authority to influence election outcomes.
The incident occurred as Sebelius gave a keynote speech at a gay advocacy gala in North Carolina in February.
Acting in her official capacity as HHS Secretary, Sebelius delivered prepared remarks, which were displayed on multiple teleprompter screens and focused on the administration's policies.
However, the report found, the secretary departed from her outline twice, at one point endorsing North Carolina lieutenant governor Walter Dalton, who she said "needs to be the next Governor of North Carolina."
At another point, she offered a series of comments on the importance of the upcoming election, urging attendees to ensure that Obama "continues to be President for another four years because this effort has just begun."
The report found that while these partisan remarks "would have been permissible if they had been made in her personal capacity," they violated the Hatch Act because she was acting under her official title and speaking about agency business.
After receiving media inquiries about the incident, the department changed the classification of the event from official to political and reimbursed the U.S. Treasury for all travel-related expenses.
Sebelius said that she had made a mistake and did not mean to use her official office for political purposes.
In a letter responding to the report, the secretary expressed "regret" for the statements and said that she has since met with department ethics attorneys to ensure that she accurately understands "what types of statements are prohibited at an official event."
She explained that "keeping the roles straight can be a difficult task, particularly on mixed trips that involve both campaign and official stops on the same day."
However, the explanation and re-classification of the trip were not enough to satisfy McGuire.
"Even if it was a mistake, it was a mistake that she does not have leeway to make," she said.
She explained that with Sebelius' "key role" in implementing the Affordable Care Act, which will account for one-seventh of the U.S. economy, "there is no room for her to be making mistakes."
"There are everyday people who have all sorts of roles that they have to fill," McGuire added, and these people "can't afford to mistake their different roles."
She also noted that if public figures were excused from following federal laws every time they claimed to get confused, "we'd have a lot of legal violations."
Now that the report on the incident has been submitted, President Obama has the authority to determine what action will be taken, if any.
McGuire is concerned that if Sebelius is not removed, she may continue to disregard federal law in other ways for political purposes.
She said that the secretary has already shown disrespect for the First Amendment through the controversial federal mandate that requires religious employers to violate their convictions by providing insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion inducing drugs.
"I think the Obama administration is trying to use this HHS mandate for political leverage," she said, adding that Sebelius has "shown herself absolutely willing to go along with that."