The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has cleared Selective Service System Director Don Benton of allegations he misused his position for political purposes by speaking at a Republican fundraising event in Hawaii last year.
Benton is a former Washington state senator from Vancouver who chaired Donald Trump’s campaign in Washington in 2016. He was appointed in 2017 as head of the Selective Service System, the agency charged with registering men between the ages of 18 and 26 in case of the need to resume a military draft.
In September, Benton was accused of violating the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that restricts political activities by federal employees, in a complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit ethics-watchdog group.
The CLC contended Benton had violated the law by speaking Sept. 21 at the Hawaii Republican Party’s Constitution Day Dinner because he was introduced by his official title at the event and described as a spokesman for the Trump administration. During the speech, in which Benton extolled the accomplishments of the administration, his title, “Director, Selective Service” was projected on a screen behind him.
Investigators concluded Benton’s appearance did not violate the Hatch Act. OSC found Benton had sought advice from legal counsel before the trip and notified the Hawaii Republican Party in advance of the restrictions on the use of his official title. He also asserted at the start of his speech that he was speaking in his personal capacity. After the event, the Hawaii GOP sent Benton a letter blaming party interns for displaying his government title.
” … we believe that the Party acted without your permission when they displayed your title. Therefore OSC has concluded that you did not violate the Hatch Act. Accordingly we are closing our file without further action,” wrote Ana Galindo-Marrone, in a letter notifying Benton of the finding.
Benton had expressed confidence last year that the complaint was baseless. “I am not worried in the least,” he said at the time, noting the Hawaii visit was primarily for official business, as he visited government officials and veterans’ groups in the state to promote Selective Service registration.
In a statement Friday, Benton wrote: “As I initially said when this false allegation was made against me, I follow all procedures and protocols to avoid any violation of the Hatch Act. As expected, I have been cleared of this unfounded complaint. I am glad that this issue was resolved in a timely fashion and didn’t interfere with agency business.”
A spokesman for the CLC, Corey Goldstone, said the group was glad to learn Benton had sought legal advice and followed the law.
“Details of the Hatch Act Unit’s investigation suggest that he took a meaningful step to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest at this event,” Goldstone said. “It seems that the Hatch Act Unit took this matter seriously and we consider the matter resolved.”