A non-partisan ethics watchdog group, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), has recently released a “liability alert” memo to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro, and other members of President Obama’s cabinet, warning them of the numerous federal statutes in place that limit federal employees from engaging in political activities. The memo serves as a reminder for Obama’s cabinet members not to use their political power as an advantage during campaign season, as clearly outlined by federal law.
The memo cited the Hatch Act and provisions of the federal code of ethics that prohibit “even the appearance of political partisanship” from federal officials.
An AP report released early last week describes the nature of President Obama’s disengagement with his cabinet members regarding their official endorsements and use of federal time and money while on the job and on the campaign trail.
The report says “White House officials say they have not offered any formal guidance to Cabinet members who have decided to wade into the race before the boss, only that they give the White House a courtesy heads up before they go public with their support.”
This is extremely vexatious considering the laws in place that prohibit this type of political engagement, especially as we near the 2016 presidential election.
“Reports that the White House has not given any formal guidance to Cabinet members when it comes to engaging in presidential politics is very troubling. Senior administration officials have been entrusted with a tremendous responsibility to safeguard the welfare of the American people and the integrity of our government, and that includes abiding by the most stringent compliance with any and all ethics rules and to avoid engaging, or giving the appearance of engaging, in partisan politics,” FACT Executive Director Matthew G. Whittaker said in a statement regarding the AP report.
Castro has been solo campaigning for Hillary Clinton in Maine, Iowa, and Nevada. He’s not the only cabinet member of the Obama Administration to endorse her, either. Along with Castro’s endorsement, Hillary has already earned the nod from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Labor Secretary Tom Perez. This comes to no surprise, as Clinton is a former co-worker of theirs from her time as Secretary of State.
While these endorsements alone likely won’t shape the opinion of an average voter, their political status certainly helps them fill the venues where they’ve been stumping for their favorite candidate.
Additionally, there is speculation that because Castro is out supporting Clinton in the public realm on his own, a real possibility exists that Castro’s name could appear on the ticket as her running mate.
Neither has shied away from that notion thus far. But is Castro really cut out for the job?
Castro is a former part-time mayor of San Antonio, and turned down a pair of job offers in Obama’s cabinet before settling into his role as head of HUD. Castro is known for being a young, charismatic and energetic next-gen liberal, but that doesn’t really make you qualified, or even equipped, to be the vice president. Most importantly, though, Castro’s success comes from not playing part in any political debacles, rather than accomplishing any notable political achievements.
Castro took over the HUD simply because it couldn’t tarnish his record. Taking on a role in Homeland Security, as he was originally offered, could blemish his political career if a terrorist attack occurred on American soil during his tenure. So he waited for the Obama Administration to counter with a cushy job that could only further enhance his political aspirations.
When he first came in as head of HUD, Castro told his people “HUD is the Department of Opportunity. And everything we do will be around that message,” according to a Politico report.
Castro is no policy wonk. A source familiar with Castro’s department told Politico, “People like Julián Castro and he’s not stopping them from doing their work. He’s also not driving it. He’s not interested and engaged like that. But it’s hard not to like him.”
That message seems to account for most liberal politicians these days. Perhaps Castro and Clinton would make a great team after all, as that quote could be used to describe either of them.