Trump official accused of violating Hatch Act for speech at Hawaii GOP fundraiser
by Anna Giaritelli, Washington Examiner, September 25, 2018
The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel on Tuesday morning demanding an investigation be launched to determine if Don Benton, director of the U.S. Selective Service System, violated the Hatch Act by speaking at a Republican Party fundraiser last week.
The CLC sent a letter to Hatch Act Unit Chief Ana Galindo-Marrone asking her office to look at whether Benton's attendance as a speaker at a Hawaii Republican Party fundraiser on Friday was illegal. The letter, obtained by the Washington Examiner, said he should be disciplined if found to be at fault.
"A 'party fundraiser' for the Hawaii Republican Party where the party 'launch[ed] their ... general election campaign' is clearly 'political activity' under the Hatch Act and its implementing regulations," CLC legal counsel Delaney Marsco wrote.
The Hatch Act states all employees of the executive branch, which the SSS falls under, are prohibited from "us[ing] his or her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election."
The law also maintains using one's “official title while participating in political activity" is not permitted. It defines “political activity” as activity “directed towards the success or failure of a political party, candidate for political office, or partisan political group.”
"Therefore, by using his official title while addressing this Hawaii Republican Party event, Mr. Benton violated the Hatch Act. CLC respectfully asks the Office of Special Counsel to investigate Mr. Benton’s actions and seek disciplinary or corrective action as appropriate," Marsco stated.
Several online posts and pictures from the Hawaii Republican Party indicate Benton, who is based in Washington, D.C., was featured as a speaker at the organization's dinner event in Honolulu.
The GOP dubbed the event a "party fundraiser" meant to "launch their party's general election campaign, according to a press release issued Sept. 17. Tickets ranged from $200 per person to $10,000 for a VIP table, a local news outlet reported.
When introduced, Benton's full name and official title "Director, Selective Service" were projected on a screen behind the stage.
During his remarks, Benton called Trump a "man of action" who "does what he says he is going to do." Benton also praised Trump for being the "disruptor" America needs, according to local media reports cited in the letter.
The Hawaiian GOP posted a tweet Saturday that said "Don Benton also repped @realdonaldtrump."
Watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington agreed that Benton's appearance at the fundraiser was likely against the law.
"The Hatch Act prohibits the use of official title in connection with fundraising activities. It appears that Benton may have violated the Hatch Act by speaking at a partisan political fundraiser while using his official title," Jordan Libowitz, communications director for CREW, said in an email to the Washington Examiner.
While some appointees can do fundraisers for the party of the president and its state affiliates, they are generally prohibited from using their federal title and agency or department.
A spokesman for the SSS told the Washington Examiner in a phone interview Tuesday the call was the first time he was learning Benton's attendance was being investigated as a possible Hatch Act violation.
"I cannot imagine that the director would knowingly or willfully violate the Hatch Act in that manner," said Matthew Tittmann, SSS acting chief of public and intergovernmental affairs. "He's been an outstanding director and an outstanding leader."
Tittmann said Benton was in Hawaii on "official business" that included a meeting with Democratic Gov. David Ige and media interviews. Ige's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Other speakers at the dinner included Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk and Heritage Foundation economist Stephen Moore.
SA: Trump official accused of ethics violation over Hawaii GOP event