Trump appointee cleared of ethics law violation following Honolulu speech
The Office of Special Counsel has cleared Don Benton, President Donald Trump’s Selective Service director, of violating the Hatch Act during a speech he gave at the Hawaii Republican Party’s Constitution Day Dinner last year.
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The Office of Special Counsel has cleared Don Benton, President Donald Trump’s Selective Service
director, of violating the Hatch Act during a speech he gave at the Hawaii Republican Party’s Constitution Day Dinner last year.
The Campaign Legal
Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan watchdog organization, filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel calling for an investigation of Benton following a story by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser about the event.
The federal ethics law bars executive branch employees from using their offices and resources for political purposes. While
officials can participate in political activities in their personal capacity, they are prohibited under the law from using their official title at political events and from using their office to influence the results of an election.
While Benton spoke at a Hawaii Republican Party event at the Hawai‘i Convention Center, which marked the launch of the Republican ticket for November’s general election, his title of selective service director flashed on a giant screen as he took the podium.
A Hawaii Republican Party press release following the event said that Benton “represented the administration at the event” and that the “Trump appointee as director of the Selective Service, took the stage to thank the Aloha State GOP for their support for the president.”
The Campaign Legal Center argued that Benton had violated the Hatch Act by using his official title.
However, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel found that Benton hadn’t violated the law because he had explained to party officials prior to the event that he was speaking in his personal capacity.
“Because Mr. Benton provided the party with advance notice about the restrictions on the use of his official title and during his speech he asserted that he was speaking in his personal capacity, we believe the party acted without his permission when they displayed his title,” according to a letter the U.S. Special Counsel’s office sent to the Campaign Legal Center on March 14.
Shirlene Ostrov, chair of the Hawaii Republican Party, had told the Star-Advertiser in September that the mistake was made by local party volunteers.
“We are glad to learn Mr. Benton sought advice from agency counsel and used this information to communicate with the party hosting the event,” said Corey Goldstone, media strategist for the Campaign Legal Center, in response to the decision. “It appears he took a meaningful step to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest at this event. It seems that the Hatch Act Unit took this matter seriously and we consider the matter resolved.”