White House indicates Sebelius won't be punished over Hatch Act violation

The White House indicated that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would probably not be punished, after federal investigators determined she had violated the law when she campaigned earlier this year for President Obama.

Sebelius broke the law by making "extemporaneous partisan remarks" during a speech in February at a Human Rights Campaign Event in Charlotte, N.C., according to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). She made the comments in the city that would later host the Democratic National Convention.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz explained in a statement that the administration has already taken action on the matter, though, putting Sebelius through training and making sure taxpayers were reimbursed.

"As the Office of Special Counsel has noted, these were extemporaneous remarks, the Health and Human Services Department has since reclassified the event to meet the correct standard, the U.S. Treasury has been reimbursed and Secretary Sebelius has met with ethics experts to ensure this never happens again," Schultz said.

"This error was immediately acknowledged by the Secretary, promptly corrected and no taxpayer dollars were misused."

He said the administration holds itself "to the highest ethical standards."

In her North Carolina remarks that prompted the report, Sebelius urged voters to make sure Obama "continues to be president for another four years."

The Office of Special Counsel said Sebelius' comments violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits public officials from campaigning in an official capacity.

The agency, as Schultz noted, said the Department of Health and Human Services after the event reclassified the trip from official to political and that the federal government was reimbursed for related costs.

OSC spokeswoman Ann O'Hanlon said there is no formal rule for dealing with an appointed official in violation of the act. However, the agency investigates at least 100 cases such cases annually with "a great majority" of them being resolved internally and violators getting a suspension.

Representatives with The Catholic Association called earlier for Sebelius' resignation.

"Throughout her tenure at Health and Human Services, most of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' actions have advanced the president's political interests," they said in a joint statement.

The last Executive Branch official to leave office following an alleged Hatch Act violation was former General Services Administration head Lurita Doan in 2008 -- though there were other controversies that preceded her resignation.