The top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee blasted Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm for using her government position to campaign against a political referendum.
In a letter sent this month to Granholm, Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) accused her of violating her own department's ethics requirements by telling voters to vote against a contentious Maine ballot initiative about the construction of a major proposed power line. Barrasso said Granholm's political activity, first reported by the Washington Free Beacon prior to the November elections, was "irresponsible" and "contrary to the principles of federalism."
Federal ethics guidelines mandate that officials "shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization or individual." Barrasso alleges that Granholm's advocacy violates this principle, given the massive spending for the power line by green energy companies politically aligned with the administration.
"It is imperative American citizens have faith in the impartiality of political appointees," Barrasso wrote. "Equally important is the maintenance of the highest ethical standards by representatives of our federal government."
Granholm posted on social media on Oct. 28, just days before Maine voters weighed in, in support of a power line project. "I hope Mainers vote NO on ONE to keep this project moving and reliable, affordable, clean energy flowing!" Granholm wrote.
The @NECEC_ME transmission line will bring clean energy to New England and reduce carbon emissions equivalent to taking 700k cars off the road. I hope Mainers vote NO on ONE to keep this project moving and reliable, affordable, #CleanEnergy flowing!
Here's what's at stake 👇1/3 pic.twitter.com/Cl2DFmbPa9
— Secretary Jennifer Granholm (@SecGranholm) October 28, 2021
Barrasso asked Granholm to respond by Nov. 19 to several questions from his office, including which groups she was in touch with regarding the ballot initiative prior to her direct advocacy. The Department of Energy told the Free Beacon that Granholm did not violate the Hatch Act. The department did not respond to a request for comment about Barrasso's allegation that Granholm violated her agency's ethics guidelines.
Barrasso isn't alone in finding Granholm's campaigning problematic. The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust submitted a Hatch Act complaint about her questionable campaign activity, alleging that she violated the act that prevents administration officials from using their government roles to influence politics. The group also cited her campaign activity in the Virginia gubernatorial election.
Barrasso's letter is the latest ethical quandary Granholm finds herself in. Earlier in November, the watchdog group Protect the Public's Trust submitted an ethics complaint with the Energy Department accusing Granholm of improperly boosting Proterra, an electric vehicle battery company where she was a top executive before joining the administration.
Update 3:15 p.m. 11/18/21: This piece was updated to include comment from the Department of Energy.