The Federal Communications Commission is at the center of a new conversation around government ethics after last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference. A government watchdog group registered a Hatch Act complaint against FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly after comments he made, while FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is drawing criticism over his acceptance of an award from the National Rifle Association.
The Project On Government Oversight sent its Hatch Act complaint to the Office of Special Counsel on Feb. 27. During the Q&A portion of a panel about FCC’s mission and policies, O’Rielly encouraged the audience to vote for President Donald Trump during the next election.
“What we can do is make sure as conservatives that we elect good people to both the House, the Senate and make sure that President Trump gets re-elected,” O’Rielly said.
The Hatch Act generally prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity on-duty or in the workplace, while using an official title or discussing agency business, while wearing an official uniform, insignia, or using a government vehicle. It applies to all executive branch employees, except the president and vice president.
“O’Rielly was clearly speaking in his official capacity rather than a personal one, even while advocating for President Trump’s reelection and promoting the election of ‘good people’ to the House and Senate. These statements therefore appear to violate the Hatch Act. Office of Special Counsel policy states that ‘the Hatch Act does prohibit federal employees, while on duty or in the workplace, from expressly advocating for or against [Trump’s] reelection in 2020.’ It would defy logic to argue that the comments at the root of this complaint were made in a personal capacity.” Danielle Brian, POGO executive director, wrote in the complaint.
OSC has not ruled on the complaint yet.
Meanwhile, the NRA took an opportunity at CPAC on Feb. 23 to honor FCC Chairman Pai with its “Courage Under Fire Award” for his work in overturning Obama-era Net Neutrality rules. Part of the award includes a handmade rifle.
Former Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Schaub is one of the critics suggesting that Pai’s acceptance of the award violates federal ethics rules, and has repeatedly called Pai out on Twitter while registering his concerns.
I’m sure this gift is worth more than $200, so where is the FCC’s written analysis? You know, the one the regulation requires FCC to issue. pic.twitter.com/nrRF6YUbCh
@AjitPaiFCC what did your ethics official tell you about that valuable handmade gun from the NRA? Please post the written decision under 5 C.F.R. 2635.204(d)(1)(ii) online so we can all see it. (Notice the tense, “has made,” means a decision is required *prior* to acceptance.) pic.twitter.com/a9fhxwXXX1