Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly violated federal law by advocating for the reelection of President Donald Trump during CPAC in February, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
Asked about a future FCC potentially reversing the agency's rollback of net neutrality rules, O'Rielly said, “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 reelected."
With those words, O'Rielly violated the Hatch Act, which forbids most federal officials from engaging in partisan advocacy, OSC’s Erica Hamrick wrote in a letter today to the Project on Government Oversight.
O'Rielly told OSC he was just trying to answer the question by offering what he saw as "the only sure way to prevent regulatory ping-pong." Hamrick, however, said his words still amounted to illegal advocacy, as he "did in fact have an answer to the moderator’s question that was not partisan — legislative action by the Senate," yet still made the comment about reelecting Trump.
OSC only issued a warning but cautioned O'Rielly that it would deem another violation "willful and knowing," which could subject him to penalties ranging from further reprimand to removal from office.
“I appreciate that OSC recognized that the statement in question was part of an off-the-cuff, unrehearsed response to an impromptu question,” O’Rielly said in a statement. “While I am disappointed and disagree that my offhand remark was determined to be a violation, I take their warning letter seriously.”