NJ-Farm-Bureau-2.jpg (copy) Perdue crop

U.S. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue violated a federal law against using his official position for campaigning, a watchdog agency has found.

During an Aug. 24 event with Donald Trump in North Carolina, Perdue used his speech to bolster the president’s re-election, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said in an Oct. 8 letter.

The agency said it would not pursue disciplinary action if Perdue reimbursed the U.S. Treasury for costs associated with the trip.

The determination came after Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington brought a complaint about Perdue. The group alleged he had violated the Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of executive-branch employees.

At the North Carolina event, which was connected to USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program, Perdue began by remarking to Trump about the people who had lined the road from the airport.

“Those were a part of those forgotten people that voted for you for 2016,” Perdue said. “And I’ve got better news for you: They and many others are going to vote for you for four more years in 2020. Because they understand, under your administration, they’ve not been forgotten.”

Later in the speech, Perdue said, “That’s what’s going to continue to happen — four more years – if America gets out and votes for this man, Donald J. Trump.”

USDA said that Perdue had not encouraged attendees to vote for a candidate or party, and had simply made speculations and observations about who had supported the president and who might.

But the Office of Special Counsel found that USDA had construed the law too narrowly.

“It is hard to imagine a better example of campaign rhetoric than telling constituents what a candidate would do if elected,” said Ana Galindo-Marrone, chief of the office’s Hatch Act Unit.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said Perdue joins 11 other Trump officials in being reprimanded for Hatch Act violations.

“This was one of the most shameless examples of the Trump administration’s escalating abuse of taxpayer resources to try to re-elect the most corrupt president in history,” said Noah Bookbinder, the group’s executive director.