Feds and the campaign trail

Many federal employees get involved in political activities during the campaign season, including the presidential, congressional and local elections. A few feds were even delegates in the recent national party conventions, and many employee organizations support the campaigns of candidates they consider "friendly."

However, federal employees interested in participating in campaigns must abide by the 1939 Hatch Act, which bars certain activities. The restrictions are more stringent in partisan (vs. nonpartisan) elections. Also, feds must abide by the law's restrictions on workplace activities. The good news is that the Hatch Act doesn't apply to federal

retirees.

You could lose your job for violating the Hatch Act, although it's very unlikely. If you're not sure whether an activity you're considering is a violation, ask the Office of the Special Counsel to provide you with an advisory opinion. Requests for advisory opinions may be sent to hatchact@osc.gov.

Here are some of the things you can do unless you're in a special employee category discussed below. You can be a candidate for public office in nonpartisan elections; contribute money to political organizations; attend political fundraisers; attend and be active at political rallies and meetings; campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections; make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections; distribute campaign literature in partisan elections; and hold office in political clubs or parties.

Some things you can't do: use your official authority or influence to interfere with an election; solicit or discourage political activity by anyone doing business with your agency; solicit or receive political contributions; be a candidate for public office in a partisan election; engage in political activity while on duty; wear an official uniform or use a government vehicle at a political function; or wear political buttons on duty.

Certain federal agencies and employee groups are covered by tighter restrictions regarding political activities. Among these are administrative law judges; the Central Intelligence Agency; Contract Appeals Boards; the criminal division (Justice Department); the Defense Intelligence Agency; the FBI; the Federal Elections Commission; the Merit Systems Protection Board; the National Security Agency; the National Security Council; the Office of Criminal Investigation (Internal Revenue Service); and the Senior Executive Service (certain career positions).

These employees can't be candidates for public office in partisan elections; campaign for or against a candidate or slate of candidates in partisan elections; make campaign speeches; collect contributions or sell tickets to political fund-raisers; distribute campaign material in partisan elections; or organize or manage political rallies or meetings, among other things.

—Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at miltzall@starpower.net.

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