Watchdog: White House Press Secretary Violates Hatch Act

A government watchdog has reported that White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has violated the federal Hatch Act. That law passed in 1939 restricts federal employees from engaging in particular political activities that could influence the outcomes of elections.

Jean-Pierre’s misconduct was explicitly in connection with her repeated use of the phrase “Mega-MAGA Republicans” while acting in her official capacity in the lead-up to the 2022 midterm elections. The conservative watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust filed a formal complaint last November following a White House briefing in which Jean-Pierre first used this contentious phrase.

Despite the severity of the violation, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which oversees the enforcement of the Hatch Act, has decided to close this case without further action, even though it found Jean-Pierre willfully violated the law.

In a letter dated June 7, Ana Galindo‐Marrone, the OSC’s Hatch Act Unit chief, confirmed Jean-Pierre’s violation. She wrote, “Because Ms. Jean‐Pierre made the statements while acting in her official capacity, she violated the Hatch Act prohibition against using her official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election.”

The White House counsel apparently did not believe that Jean‐Pierre’s remarks violated the Act. This disregard raises questions about the transparency and sincerity of the Biden administration’s commitment to uphold the law. The Hatch Act violation is no small matter, as offenders can be fined up to $1,000 and face bans on federal employment.

Jean-Pierre’s violation isn’t an isolated incident in the Biden administration. She’s the fourth official found guilty of similar breaches. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra violated the law when he publicly endorsed Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) for re-election. Former White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain was also implicated in promoting partisan Democratic group merchandise. In addition, Jen Psaki, previous White House Press Secretary, was found guilty of speaking in support of Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign in Virginia.

What’s distressing here is the casual dismissal of these violations, as if they were minor infractions. It casts doubt on the administration’s commitment to maintaining integrity in public office, which should concern every American, regardless of political leanings.

As Andrew Bates, White House spokesperson, said, “We take the law seriously and uphold the Hatch Act.” Yet, the frequency of these violations suggests otherwise. The Biden administration needs to revisit its understanding of the Act and encourage greater respect for its constraints.