USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue violated the Hatch Act while at an Aug. 24 Farmers to Families Food Box event in North Carolina according the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. The office, responding to a complaint from watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The Hatch Act prohibits most federal employees from certain campaign activities while acting in their official capacity.
According to the cure letter issued by the Office of Special Council, Perdue, while speaking at an event to promote the administration’s coronavirus response, told the assembled crowd “Mr. President, as you saw those throngs of people lining both sides of the road from the airport all the way to Mills River here, those were a part of those forgotten people that voted for you for 2016. And I’ve got better news for you: They and many others are going to vote for you for four more years in 2020. Because they understand, under your administration, they’ve not been forgotten. And this [Farmers to Families Food Box Program] is a great example of that.”
Because Perdue was on official USDA business at the time and had traveled to North Carolina on taxpayer expense, the USDA secretary has been ordered to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for all expenses related to the trip.
“Taken as a whole, Secretary Perdue’s comments during the August 24 event encouraged those present, and those watching remotely, to vote for President Trump’s reelection,” The Office of Special Council letter states. “His first words were not about USDA, but about the president’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns.”
The letter notes that no other corrective action will be sought if Perdue reimburses Treasury for the travel expenses.