An initial decision by an administrative law judge (ALJ) with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) found that a former physician with the Department of Veterans Affairs violated the Hatch Act on numerous occasions when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
Dr. Choudhury Salekin was employed at the VA hospital in Murfreesboro, TN when he launched his campaign for Senate.
According to a press release from the Office of Special Counsel, Salekin used the VA logo in campaign materials, including on campaign business cards and encouraged fellow VA employees to campaign for him and to view his campaign website and video. One patient even provided a testimonial for his campaign video. OSC also alleged in the complaint that Salekin solicited campaign contributions both online and in person and invited at least one patient during a medical consultation to a campaign event.
OSC filed a complaint with the MSPB in November 2017 and charged Salekin with 15 different Hatch Act violations. OSC said in the complaint that Salekin had received guidance from the VA’s acting general counsel outlining each of the Hatch Act’s restrictions.
The ALJ found that OSC proved 11 of the 15 charges and imposed the maximum available penalty: a civil fine of $1,000 and a five-year debarment from federal service. Since filing the complaint, Salekin left federal employment, so removal was not an option.
“This decision confirms why the Hatch Act is so important,” said OSC Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “Taxpayers should never be forced to unwittingly fund partisan campaign activity. This decision sends a clear message to federal employees that they cannot use their position to impact the results of an election.”
The initial decision will become final on June 2, 2020, pending an opportunity for appeal.