Partisan politics are standard operating procedure throughout the country, but no matter how divisive political maneuvers become government agencies are strictly nonpartisan. In light of these facts, Ben Carson’s formal appearance at the 45th president’s campaign stop in Phoenix was likely illegal.
The problem stems from a Depression-era act known as the Hatch Act which was put in place by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The act is meant to protect federal employees “from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure” that raises and promotions are granted on merit and not “political affiliation.”
Those in attendance at the Phoenix rally, as well as those watching from other locations, heard an announcer introduce Ben Carson as he took the stage. The announcer intoned Carson’s full title, “the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
Since the president considers the Phoenix rally a campaign stop, Carson’s appearance on-stage is seen as an endorsement. An endorsement is not something Carson, in his current position, can legally grant. He can endorse the president as a private individual but once the announcer introduced Dr. Carson as a member of the cabinet, an ethics violation occurred.
This is not the first time an ethics violation has occurred during this administration’s reign. One Washington Post reporter places this violation within context when he writes “with an administration that’s breaking norms with regularity, it’s a bit like a smoke detector going off in a building near the epicenter of a nuclear blast.”
To place the malfeasance in a broader context, former HUD secretary Julian Castro also came under scrutiny for violating the Hatch Act when he told an interviewer that he endorsed Hillary Clinton. In such situations the Office of Special Counsel has determined that the punishment should be decided upon and dispensed by the violator’s supervisor. Whether or not the president chooses to punish Dr. Carson for his oversight remains to be seen.
Raffi Williams, spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, released a statement on behalf of the agency which read that HUD did not “believe there was a Hatch Act violation.” They are still consulting with the Ethics Office and do not want to repeat this kind of incident.