More Hatch Act Violations Cited by Special Counsel

Political passion during an election cycle continues to embroil employees who put their federal careers at risk by engaging in prohibited political activity. Here are two new cases, involving both sides of the partisan political divide.

Agencies usually spend time and effort to make sure that all employees are aware of the restrictions of the Hatch Act. Perhaps some employees do not read the memos or become so personally embroiled in the issues of a campaign they fail to pay attention to restrictions placed on them while holding a federal position.

Whatever the motivation, there are cases where is appears the person knew or certainly should have known about the restrictions on political activity but they still get in trouble for not being able to restrain their political passion during an election year.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is responsible for administering and enforcing campaign finance laws. Because of their involvement with the election process, employees of the FEC are called “further restricted employees” meaning that the restrictions against political activity for these employees is more stringent than in other agencies. The FEC is the first agency listed in the list of agencies published by the Office of Special Counsel.

According to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), “further restricted employees” are prohibited from taking an active part in partisan political management or partisan political campaigns. They may not campaign for or against candidates or otherwise engage in political activity in concert with a political party, a candidate for partisan political office, or a partisan political group. The OSC lists a number of examples of political activity in which these employees cannot participate, presumably because of the mission of the agency.

Now, according to a press release from the Office of Special Counsel, an attorney working for the FEC has resigned after admitting to violating the Hatch Act. Under a settlement agreement with the OSC, the unnamed lawyer agreed to resign and is barred from employment within the executive branch for two years.

Despite the restrictions on “further restricted employees,” this person was an active supporter of Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election campaign and posted “dozens” of partisan political tweets that including soliciting campaign contributions to his election campaign. The employee also participated in a Huffington Post internet broadcast via webcam from an FEC facility criticizing Republicans and Obama’s opponent in the campaign, Mitt Romney.

The actions by the attorney have come to the attention of Congress. Subsequent to the press release from the OSC, Federal Election Commission Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel was on Capitol Hill to testify about undisclosed political money in California. As a result of the OSC revelations,  she ended up answering questions about the violation of the Hatch Act that was just disclosed.

According to Roll Call, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas,  asked Ravel, one of three Democrats serving at the FEC, whether the anti-Republican views expressed by the agency attorney are common at the agency. Vice Chairwoman Ravel answered “I will tell you that the FEC responded very quickly to that issue when it came to the attention of people within the agency,”  that the actions were “totally inappropriate and that an internal investigation found them to be isolated.”

In a second case, a civilian employee of the Air Force reached an agreement with the OSC to serve a 40-day suspension without pay for “repeatedly” violating the restrictions of the Hatch Act. The employee had been warned to stop engaging in political activity on duty but did not do so.

According to the OSC, colleagues of the employee had complained about the employee’s constant dissemination of partisan political activity on duty and using email to send out political messages. While the employee agreed to stop engaging in this activity, he continued to send out additional political email messages conveying a negative impression of President Obama including one distributed the day after the first admonishment.

OSC confirmed the employee had been aware of the Hatch Act restrictions and had also received email reminding agency employees against engaging in political activity in the workplace.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47