House Democrat nods to Kellyanne Conway in push to make Hatch Act violations a crime

A House Democrat is seeking to add criminal provisions to a federal law that bars federal employees from electioneering, naming his amendment after former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.

Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), who played a central role in impeachment of then-President Trump, is seeking to update the Hatch Act through an amendment to a GOP-led bill dealing with free speech.

The so-called Kellyanne Conway Amendment from Goldman would create a felony provision for a law that ethics watchdogs often describe as relatively toothless, particularly for those serving at high levels of government.

The Hatch Act bars promotion of a president’s political interests during the course of administration officials performing official duties, but its consequences are largely limited to disciplinary action and leaves no method for addressing conduct of those who have left government employment.

Under Goldman’s amendment, “willful” violators could face up to two years of jail time as well as facing a fine of up to $1,000 if they use their office for “the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.”

Conway dismissed Goldman as a “crappy lawyer [and] creepy stalker” after he mentioned her eight times in a release about the amendment.

“Today’s stunt by that TV lawyer guy with 15 minutes of fame and zero accomplishments in Congress is why so Americans believe their representatives in Washington focus on themselves and not the people,” she said in a statement to The Hill.

“Like many others, he misunderstands the Hatch Act, which makes clear that ‘an employee retains the right… to express his opinion on political subject and candidates,’” Conway said, adding that her comments included “factual, non-political statements.”

Conway was the subject of numerous Hatch Act complaints while serving as an aide to Trump, with a 2019 Office of Special Counsel (OSC) report ultimately recommending that the president bar her from federal service due to repeated incidents in which she appeared to campaign for the president while on the clock.

In that report, it noted she appeared to scoff at the lack of consequences under the law.

“If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” Conway said in a 2019 gaggle with reporters.

“Let me know when the jail sentence starts,” she added.

Conway was cited for comments on Fox News and CNN disparaging former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) during his runoff election campaign against Roy Moore in December 2017, including when she said the then-candidate was “weak on crime” and would be a vote against GOP-backed tax cuts.

OSC later noted that she repeatedly posted political messages on social media in the weeks before the 2018 election, and cited Conway for repeatedly attacking Democratic presidential candidates during the party’s 2020 primary, making jabs at Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and then-candidate Joe Biden by name during TV interviews.

“Ms. Conway failed to comply with OSC’s requests and, in fact, escalated her partisan critiques of candidates after OSC had communicated to the White House that her conduct violated the law. In sum, Ms. Conway continues to violate the Hatch Act and signals that she will not comply with the law,” the report stated.

A 2018 report from the office found she violated the Hatch Act 22 times, though accounting from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which itself lodged Hatch Act complaints against Conway, asserted she may have violated the law more than 50 times.

Trump declined to discipline Conway for the Hatch Act violations, suggesting at the time that OSC was infringing on Conway’s free speech.

A government watchdog in October 2021 found then-Biden White House press secretary Jen Psaki violated the Hatch Act by appearing to endorse Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D) at a briefing with reporters. OSC later confirmed the violation. Psaki said she took the complaint seriously.

Goldman’s amendment was offered to a bill from House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) aimed at prohibiting “federal employee censorship” set to be reviewed by the panel Tuesday, something he said is already barred under law.

“I am offering the Kellyanne Conway Amendment to address a truly serious issue: that the Trump administration wantonly and repeatedly violated the Hatch Act prohibition against using the official power of the government for partisan political purposes,” he said.

Though the Hatch Act itself only contains civil penalties, a sister statute bars coercing federal employees into political activity and carries a three-year prison sentence.

Brett Samuels contributed.

Updated 7:48 p.m.

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