The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) keeps making news regarding employees supporting President Obama’s re-election. While federal employees are entitled to have their own personal political opinions, they cannot use agency resources to assist a candidate running for office without running afoul of the Hatch Act.
While former IRS employee Lois Lerner has made the most news with allegations involving targeting of conservative organizations by the agency, there have been other findings of Hatch Act violations of IRS employees apparently willing to sacrifice their careers as a federal employee to help in the president’s re-election.
In the latest instance, an unnamed IRS employee has agreed to a 100 day suspension without pay for violating the Hatch Act. The complaint filed by the Office of Special Counsel alleged that, when fielding taxpayers’ questions on an IRS customer service help line, the employee repeatedly urged taxpayers to reelect President Obama in 2012 by delivering a chant based on the spelling of the employee’s last name. In the settlement agreement resolving the complaint, the IRS employee acknowledged that he had used his authority and influence as an IRS customer service representative for a political purpose and did so while at work.
Earlier this year, the Dallas office of the IRS was warned about employee actions after complaints were submitted to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that it was “commonplace” for employees to have pro-Obama screensavers on computers, and to have campaign-style buttons and stickers at the office. OSC felt it necessary to issue a warning to all IRS employees in the Dallas Taxpayer Assistance Center that they were not allowed to wear or display any items advocating for or against a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate in the workplace.
In another IRS case, an employee in Kentucky who had been warned about violating the Hatch Act prohibitions on political activity was given a 14-day suspension for promoting her partisan political views to a taxpayer she was assisting during the 2012 Presidential election season. A recorded conversation with the employee and a taxpayer revealed she was “for” the Democrats because “Republicans already [sic] trying to cap my pension and . . . they’re going to take women back 40 years.” She continued to explain that her mom always said, “‘If you vote for a Republican, the rich are going to get richer and the poor are going to get poorer.’ And I went, ‘You’re right.’ I found that out.” The employee told the taxpayer, “I’m not supposed to voice my opinion, so you didn’t hear me saying that.”
Apparently, the employee did not know or forgot that the conversation was being recorded while she displayed her political passion to the taxpayer. Following the investigation, the employee entered into a settlement agreement with the Office of Special Counsel in April 2014. She admitted to violating the Hatch Act’s restrictions against engaging in political activity while on duty and in the workplace and using her official authority or influence to affect the result of an election.