For years, blatant violations of the Hatch Act have been compared only by “Infrastructure Week” as the Trump administration’s darkest joke. But nearly three months after President Donald Trump stepped down, a former government official was formally punished for exploiting his position for political purposes – and others may be on the way.
Lynne Patton, a longtime member of the Trump Organization and a former event planner, came into conflict with the Hatch Act on several occasions during her tenure as director of public liaison for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but openly rejected any chance of face discipline for violating the law.
“I just retweeted this incredible tweet from my two Twitter accounts – professional and personal,” wrote Patton in a 2019 Facebook post after sharing a meme from a conservative account. “It could be a violation of the Hatch Act. It may not be. Anyway, I honestly don’t care anymore. “
On Tuesday, however, Patton was finally punished for violating the ethics law, accepting an agreement from the U.S. Special Council Office that included a $ 1,000 fine and a four-year ban on serving in the federal government. Patton was also forced to admit that she knowingly violated the law when she recruited public housing residents to appear in a video defending Trump at the Republican National Convention last year.
Typically, these violations were dismissed by Trump officials as bureaucratic “oopsies”. But with the election of President Joe Biden, the Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board – the government agency charged with prosecuting cases of potential breaches of the Hatch Act, which have remained without a board quorum for the entire term of Trump in office – are beginning to lessen the vast backlog of complaints from the Trump era.
The Office of the Special Council does not confirm the existence of pending investigations, but said that it is slightly limited in time for complaints submitted to the Merit Systems Protection Council.
“For the OSC to file a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Council, the OSC would have to file the complaint while the subject was still a federal employee,” Zachary Kurz, spokesman for the Office of Special Adviser, told The Daily Beast. “Otherwise, the MSPB no longer has jurisdiction.”
But the sheer number of existing complaints submitted to the council – which now number in the thousands – means that some Trumpworld figures are nervous that they may actually face consequences for violating the Hatch Act.
“Let me put it this way: people will wish they never tweeted,” wrote a person close to the White House.
“Even in an administration marked by a cruel disregard for ethical laws, Lynne Patton stood out,” Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the ethical watchdog organization that initially filed the complaint against Patton. “What made her behavior particularly blatant was that she not only used her position for political purposes, she deceived and exploited residents of public housing for political gain, showing little regard for the people she should be helping and the ethical rules she should help be following. “
Patton’s actions were far from being an exception in the Trump administration, where senior officials developed a pattern of violating the Hatch Act, mostly with impunity. The Republican National Convention alone presented a tsunami of potential violations of the law, from former Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf hosting a primetime naturalization ceremony to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to address the RNC from Jerusalem to the location of its closing night on the White House lawn.
In October 2020 alone, CREW discovered that 16 Trump employees violated the Hatch Act surprisingly 60 times, including first daughter / senior advisor Ivanka Trump, son-in-law / senior advisor Jared Kushner, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, commercial chief Peter Navarro and communications director Alyssa Farah – but senior officials in the government were openly disdainful of the law, which prohibits the use of government offices or resources for political purposes.
“Nobody outside Beltway really cares – they expect Donald Trump to promote Republican values and that Barack Obama, when he was in office, will do the same for Democrats,” former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows – a former defender of the Hatch Act – he told Politico in August, calling the concerns of ethics experts “a lot of commotion”.
Or, as former senior White House advisor Kellyanne Conway said just before the Special Council Office determined that she should have been removed from government service for her repeated breaches of the Hatch Act: “Blah, blah, blah … Me let me know when you are in prison sentence starts. “