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Fudge violated the Hatch Act, watchdog finds

Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeOn The Money: Democrats wary of emerging bipartisan infrastructure deal, warn of time crunch Progressives relish return to in-person events On The Money: Key takeaways from May jobs report | Biden rejects new GOP infrastructure offer as talks drag on MORE, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), violated the Hatch Act earlier this year when she weighed in on the 2022 Ohio Senate election, according to a letter from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).

The OSC concluded that Fudge violated the Hatch Act during a White House press briefing on March 18, when she answered a question about the 2022 Ohio Senate race.

Fudge, a former representative of Ohio, was asked at the briefing if she thought there was a Democrat who should run for the open House seat, after Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain Al Gore lobbied Biden to not scale back climate plans in infrastructure deal White House briefed on bipartisan infrastructure deal but says questions remain MORE (R) announced that he would not seek reelection.

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Fudge responded, “Oh, absolutely.” When asked who she had in mind, she mentioned two potential candidates, adding “I think we have a good shot at it.”

“Well, I have two friends that are thinking about it. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanJ.D. Vance emerges as wild card in Ohio GOP Senate primary 9 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2022 Biden faces dilemma on Trump steel tariffs MORE, of course, is thinking about it. I understand that Nan Whaley is thinking about it. I mean, I think we’re going to put a good person in that race, no matter who we choose. But they’re both friends. I think we have a good shot at it. I know people have written off Ohio. I haven’t written off Ohio. I believe we can win the Senate race,” Fudge said.

Both Ryan and Whaley have since announced bids for the Senate seat.

The Americans for Public Trust, led by Executive Director Caitlin Sutherland, filed a complaint regarding Fudge’s comments to the OSC on March 24, according to a letter provided to The Hill. 

The OSC on Thursday concluded that Fudge, a former representative of Ohio, “showed support for the Democratic Party with respect to the Ohio Senate race while speaking in her official capacity.”

The watchdog specifically highlighted Fudge saying “we have a good shot at it” and “I believe we can win the Senate race.”

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The following day, after receiving inquiries about her comments, Fudge released a statement admitting she should not have opined on the Senate race, the office noted.

The OSC said that because Fudge “expressed remorse about her statement,” and because officials at the department “counseled her about the Hatch Act,” the office closed the matter and issued the secretary a warning.

The office wrote, however, that Fudge was advised that if she “engages in prohibited political activity” in the future, it will be considered a “willful and knowing violation of the law” that may result in further action.

The letter was written by Ana Galindo-Marrone, the chief of the OSC’s Hatch Act Unit, to Sutherland.

When asked for a comment on the OSC’s findings, HUD press secretary Meaghan Lynch referred The Hill to Fudge’s statement from March.

“When I was discussing getting relief to the American People and the American Rescue Plan from the briefing room on Thursday, I answered a question from a reporter related to Ohio politics. I acknowledge that I should have stuck with my first instinct and not answered the question. I take these things seriously and I want to assure the American people that I am focused on meeting the needs of our country,” Fudge said at the time.

Politico first reported on the OSC letter.

Brett Samuels contributed.