A watchdog group hit Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm with a Hatch Act complaint over her overt political activism on her official social media account in the leadup to Tuesday's elections in Maine.
The complaint, sent Tuesday by the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, says Granholm illegally campaigned against a ballot initiative in Maine by using her official, taxpayer-funded Twitter account.
The Maine ballot initiative in question, which would prohibit construction of a proposed power line project in the state, is the most expensive ballot initiative fight in Maine’s history; groups have raised over $98 million in support and opposition to it. Granholm last week used her official Twitter account to urge voters to vote against the initiative, promising the costly green energy project would save the state money, protect jobs, and create "cleaner, cheaper energy" for the state.
"By using an official government channel of communication, Secretary Granholm both indicated the federal government endorsed and encouraged citizens to vote a certain way on a ballot question, and used a taxpayer-funded resource to do so," the complaint states. "Secretary Granholm has apparently violated the Hatch Act again."
The complaint is the latest against the energy secretary, who has used interviews in her official capacity to urge voters to elect Democrats. In the last two weeks, watchdogs have cited Granholm's campaign speech on behalf of Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe and an interview in which she acknowledged she is subject to the Hatch Act, then proceeded to violate it anyway by calling on viewers to support progressive candidates.
"I'm subject to something called the Hatch Act, which means I can't advocate for people to call their members of Congress," Granholm said. "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."
While the Hatch Act traditionally applies to executive branch appointees illegally campaigning for candidates, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust says it applies to ballot initiatives as well. "Executive agencies have included ballot initiatives when defining political activity allowed while not on duty," the watchdog's complaint reads. "Moreover, in this case the advocacy was done with official government resources and on an official government account that implies endorsement."
Update 6:53 p.m. EST: After publication, a Department of Energy spokeswoman told the Free Beacon, "The Hatch Act places restrictions on certain partisan political activities of public employees. The Maine ballot initiative is not partisan and is therefore not covered by the Hatch Act."