According to a letter sent to President Joe Biden on Tuesday by Henry Kerner of United States Office of Special Counsel, when Department of Health and Human Services Sec. Xavier Becerra attended the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Annual Awards Gala and expressed his support to California Sen. Alex Padilla’s reelection in September 2022 as his official capacity and he spoke in favor of California Sen. Alex Padilla’s reelection, he violated Hatch Act.
Becerra was awarded the American Dream Medallion Award for 2022. His acceptance remarks were based on the work done by HHS and Biden-Harris administration and were approved in advance by an HHS Ethics Division lawyer. Becerra then added:
“Alex Padilla is my brother, friend, and senator, and I will vote for you in just a few weeks. Thank you for always being there for us. ”
A report that accompanied the letter stated that Becerra’s staff recorded the speech. One can be heard saying “No, no you can’t do that.” ”
The OSC report is a good resource for those who may need to refresh their memory on the Hatch Act, and how it applies here:
The Hatch Act prevents federal employees from using official authority to influence the outcome of elections. This includes expressing support for candidates in their individual capacity. However, this is not allowed when they are speaking as government officials. ”
Becerra has been under the Hatch Act for over 25 years.
Perhaps Becerra thought that ethics laws were not important after the House Ethics Committee ignored the fact that Karen Bass, Becerra’s former colleague (and current Los Angeles mayor) received a scholarship created by the University of Southern California just for her.
Here’s Becerra explaining the incident from the Office of the Special Counsel report:
Secretary Becerra, in response to the OSC investigation, explained that he made his opening remarks at the Gala “off the cuff”, and was not something he planned to say before he got to the podium. “I am certainly proud of Alex Padilla, and his achievements, and I said this from the perspective as someone who has seen many of his accomplishments.” Secretary Becerra said that he did not intend to convey anything other than the fact that he would vote for the Senator in less than a month. ”
Secretary Becerra crossed a line when he expressed his support for Senator Padilla. He also referred to Senator Padilla in the future as someone “he will vote for.” ….” By doing this, Secretary Becerra broke the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of official authority and influence to affect an election.
Secretary Becerra was aware that the Hatch Act prevented him from publicly supporting Senator Padilla’s election. He had also received extensive training in the Hatch Act since joining HHS. This included a presentation by the White House Counsel’s Office three months prior to the Gala. The statement he made at the Gala was so egregious that a member from his staff present gasped, and immediately said “no you can’t do that.”
OSC also considered Secretary Becerra’s explanations of why he made these remarks. Secretary Becerra, who is familiar with the Hatch Act, knew that his “longstanding relationship” with Senator Padilla didn’t exempt him from its prohibition on expressing his support for the Senator, even in an extemporaneous manner, in an official address. This belief that his stated intention to vote in favor of Senator Padilla is merely a a “res
Kerner warned Biden in the report’s cover letter:
As the presidential election nears, this report provides an opportunity to discourage violations by reminding federal workers at all levels about Hatch Act restrictions.
Becerra has received more training on the Hatch Act. Perhaps the 28th try will be the charm.