By Tia Mitchell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #local-all (CNT)
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was ordered to reimburse the government for a trip to North Carolina after his speech included comments backing President Donald Trump’s re-election.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a government watchdog organization, filed a complaint after that Aug. 24 speech and accused Perdue of violating the Hatch Act. This federal law prevents government officials from using their office to endorse candidates or engage in political activity.
Perdue, Georgia’s former governor, had traveled to Mills River, N.C., with Trump to give a speech about the Farmers to Families Food Box. This $4 billion coronavirus assistance program distributed fresh produce, meat and dairy products from American producers to needy families.
In his remarks, Perdue said the program was indicative of the president’s benevolence and a reason why he was supporting his re-election campaign.
“We’ve never seen an outpouring of compassion like that for people who matter, because people matter to you,” Perdue said, speaking directly to Trump in the audience. “And that’s what’s important to me. And that’s what’s going to continue to happen—four more years—if America gets out and votes for this man, Donald J. Trump.”
Asked by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to explain his comments, Perdue said he was describing the president’s past behavior and speculating on what he would do in the future if re-elected. Perdue said he had not encouraged anyone to vote a certain way.
The Special Counsel’s office determined that the remarks still ran afoul of the Hatch Act and directed him to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for the cost of the trip.
“Taken as a whole, Secretary Perdue’s comments during the August 24 event encouraged those present, and those watching remotely, to vote for President Trump’s reelection,” the report said. “His first words were not about USDA, but about the president’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns.”
If Perdue pays the fine, the case will be closed. However, the Special Counsel’s letter said any further violations could result in more serious action.