Honolulu GOP Chair Violated Federal Hatch Act – Honolulu Civil Beat

The chair of the Honolulu County Republican Party admitted numerous violations of a law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity while on duty or in federal facilities.

Brett Kulbis, who has been chair of the Oahu GOP since 2017, confirmed Friday that he is the person identified in a press release from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel earlier this month.

“I will confirm that it is me,” said Kulbis. “I think that is all that I want to say at this time. I am not trying to hide from it. But at this stage in the election process, I think this would be a distraction for our party.”

The OSC, which did not identify Kulbis by name, said it reached an agreement with a former civilian Navy employee in Hawaii who admitted to the violations.

Brett Kulbis, chair of the Honolulu County Republican Party, at the Civil Beat offices in 2017.

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Kulbis later issued this statement to Civil Beat in a second phone interview: “OSC and I came to an amicable agreement. I am now retired from civil service and enjoying my retirement here in Hawaii and working hard with the local Republican Party to elect our local candidates and to elect President Trump.”

While serving as chair of HCRP, “the employee created and used HCRP social media pages to solicit political contributions. He also sent dozens of emails using an online marketing platform to solicit contributions for the Hawaii Republican Party (HRP), HCRP, and candidates for partisan political office.”

According to the OSC, an investigation found that Kulbis also had over 1,000 HRP- and HRCP-related documents on his Navy desktop computer.

“While in his Navy workplace, the employee used that computer to download, draft, edit, and publish partisan political materials, including updating the HCRP Facebook page,” said OSC.

The settlement calls for Kulbis to pay a civil fine of $1,000 and to accept a three-year debarment from federal employment. OSC said that Kulbis retired after the agency filed a disciplinary action with the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Hawaii GOP Chair Shirlene Ostrov issued this statement Friday: “Like all of us, Brett Kulbis serves countless hours in an unpaid, volunteer capacity. And unfortunately sometimes volunteers make mistakes. While the rules are complex for limiting certain activities for federal employees, they are nonetheless clear and we emphasize the importance of being in strictest compliance with the laws.”

The Republican Party in Hawaii has struggled to elect party members to the Legislature, the governor’s office and the U.S. Congress. With few exceptions, the Democratic Party of Hawaii has long dominated all partisan offices.

“Together, we can take back Hawaii from Democrats after 65 long years and put the Aloha State on the right track,” Kulbis said in his pitch to be reelected Oahu party chair in 2019.

Ballotpedia says that Kulbis was an at-large delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.

The Hatch Act was passed in 1939. According to OSC, it limits “certain political activities” of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs.

“The law’s purposes are to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.”

The act has been in the headlines recently, with critics charging that members of the Trump administration had repeatedly violated the act by engaging in campaign activities, including from the White House. The president and vice president are exempt from the act.