Ethics Watchdog Puts Obama Cabinet on ‘Liability Alert’

Julian Castro and Hillary Clinton / AP


An ethics watchdog group issued a "liability alert" to President Obama’s Cabinet Monday spelling out the way in which federal law restricts federal employees from engaging in political activities.

The ethics group, called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), issued the alert following reports that the White House had not given formal guidance to Cabinet members on these restrictions despite the fact that several have expressed support for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The Associated Press reported this week that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and other current and former officials had endorsed Clinton, some of them even hitting the campaign trail for her.

The alerts were sent in letter form to Castro, who is rumored to be a potential vice presidential pick for Clinton, and other members of Obama’s Cabinet.

"As you undoubtedly are aware, numerous federal laws and regulations place strict constraints on federal employees engaging in political activities. These rules are aimed at maintaining the integrity of the government, protecting both the taxpayers and government employees, and preventing undue partisanship in government," the letter read.

The letter went on to outline restrictions placed on the political activities of federal employees by the Hatch Act, which bars them from using their official authority to influence the outcome of an election, and federal ethics code.

The warning letter also cited the "preferential treatment" that former Secretary Clinton offered to political donors as a model for what not to do while engaging in political activities as a federal employee.

"Reports that the White House has not given any formal guidance to Cabinet members when it comes to engaging in presidential politics is very troubling," Matthew Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney who serves as executive director for FACT, said in a statement.

"Senior administration officials have been entrusted with a tremendous responsibility to safeguard the welfare of the American people and the integrity of our government. This includes abiding by the most stringent compliance with any and all ethics rules and to avoid engaging, or giving the appearance of engaging, in partisan politics."

Morgan Chalfant   Email Morgan | Full Bio | RSS
Morgan Chalfant is a staff writer at the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Free Beacon, Morgan worked as a staff writer at Red Alert Politics. She also served as the year-long Collegiate Network fellow on the editorial page at USA TODAY from 2013-14. Morgan graduated from Boston College in 2013 with a B.A. in English and Mathematics. Her Twitter handle is @mchalfant16.

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