Former HUD official Lynne Patton disciplined for violating Hatch Act

Patton, appointed to oversee the New York and New Jersey region of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, had moved into public housing for a month in 2019 to draw attention to the living conditions in New York City Housing Authority buildings. She leveraged relationships she had cultivated with residents to recruit participants for a video explaining how their standard of living had improved under the Trump administration, according to the Office of Special Counsel. The video aired during the GOP convention.

“By using information and NYCHA connections available to her solely by virtue of her HUD position, Patton improperly harnessed the authority of her federal position to assist the Trump campaign in violation of the Hatch Act,” said a statement released by the Office of Special Counsel.

As part of the settlement, Patton admitted to engaging in conduct that violated the law and agreed to a 48-month debarment from federal employment and to pay a $1,000 civil fine.

“No length of punishment will ever be able to outlast the permanent positive trajectory upon which NYCHA is now advancing thanks to the Trump Administration and my amazing HUD team,” Patton said in a statement to The Washington Post. She said she had received advance written permission from the HUD Office of General Counsel and “followed their directives to a ‘T.’”

Some of the participants in the video told the New York Times in August that they felt tricked and were never told that their interviews would be used for political purposes. Patton said she never misled residents.

“The residents in the video have since admitted to CNN and other outlets that they were never tricked,” Patton said. “Therefore, I sleep well at night knowing that over 500,000 low-income New Yorkers continue to benefit from our historic efforts and will never regret creating a video that highlighted the same.”

In 2019, the Office of Special Counsel determined that she had violated the law barring federal executive-branch employees from engaging in political activities using their titles while on duty or in a federal building after a series of Twitter “likes” between December 2017 and April 2018 from her official HUD account.

Among Patton’s illegally “hearted” tweets:

  • President Donald Trump’s endorsement of now-Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
  • The Republican National Committee chairwoman’s criticism of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.)
  • A GOP post favoring Mike Pompeo’s confirmation as secretary of state.
  • And Kanye West’s photo of his autographed Trump campaign hat.

The government watchdog at the time also said Patton had unwittingly violated the law by posing in her HUD office for a photo that accompanied an article in New York magazine. Appearing in the photo on a bookshelf above Patton’s head was a red USA hat that turned out to be an “official USA 45th presidential hat” sold on the Trump-Pence campaign website.

The special counsel’s office did not pursue any disciplinary action at the time but warned Patton that any further prohibited political activity could result in discipline.

During her four-year tenure at HUD making $160,000 a year, Patton made headlines for her publicity stunts. In addition to her temporary move into New York public housing, there was her surprise cameo at the hearing of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

The investigation of Patton’s activities stemmed from a complaint by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Noah Bookbinder, president of CREW, said in a statement Tuesday that “it is gratifying to see real consequences for outrageous misconduct.”

“Even in an administration marked by a callous disregard for ethics laws, Lynne Patton stood out,” Bookbinder said. “What made her behavior particularly egregious was that she not only used her position for political purposes, she misled and exploited public housing residents for political gain, showing little regard for the people she was supposed to be helping and the ethics rules she was supposed to be following.”

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