Biden's Energy Secretary Violated Hatch Act, Watchdog Says

Jennifer Granholm used her official capacity as gov't official to promote Democratic candidates, according to complaint

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm / Getty Images
October 19, 2021

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits government officials from leveraging their official duties to impact election results, according to an ethics watchdog complaint.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust in a Tuesday letter called on the Department of Energy's Office of Special Counsel to investigate Granholm, who during an interview carried out in her official capacity advocated for the election of progressive Democrats. The watchdog group said Granholm's comments were an improper use of her position, according to FACT.

During the interview, which was hosted by beauty magazine Marie Claire and first reported on by the Washington Free Beacon, Granholm was introduced as the secretary of energy and spoke about her responsibilities in the administration. But she quickly transitioned to political discussions about electing more progressive Democrats to office, and acknowledged the chance that she was violating the law.

"I'm subject to something called the Hatch Act, which means I can't advocate for people to call their Members of Congress," Granholm told interviewer Emily Tisch Sussman, a Democratic activist and daughter of a major Democratic donor. "If I weren't subject to the Hatch Act, I'm sure you know I would be, but I am so I can't do that."

"Throughout the interview she stated that she was a Democrat, Democrats had a 'bare majority' in Congress, urged viewers to contact Members of Congress about policy issues she supported, and to elect more Democrats to Congress," the group wrote. "In fact she essentially acknowledged that her statements were a violation of the Hatch Act, yet attempted to excuse her remarks with 'If I wasn't subject to the Hatch Act, this is what I would say.'"

The allegation comes just a week after White House press secretary Jen Psaki was accused of violating the Hatch Act when she endorsed Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe during a press briefing. Shortly after liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an ethics complaint against Psaki, she admitted to the infraction, saying on Saturday, "I'll be more careful with my words next time."

The Department of Energy publicly defended Granholm's interview with Marie Claire, further establishing that the interview was part of her official duties, FACT said in the letter.

"The Department of Energy affirmed her statements were made in her official capacity, claiming that she shared how Americans 'can participate in our democracy,'" the group wrote. "Granholm's statements did more than that—she advocated for precisely how citizens should participate in our democracy and that was by supporting a particular political party and its policies."

The Department of Energy did not respond to a request for comment.