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The Hatch Act Of 1939

Updated November 1, 2018

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The Hatch Act Of 1939 essay

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The Hatch Act Of 1939 The Hatch Act of 1939 Under Hatch Act of 1939, federal employees, employees of the District of Columbia (D.C.) government, and certain state and local government employees faced significant restrictions on their ability to participate in political activities and placing ceilings on campaign expenditures. The act is named for its author, Senator Carl Atwood Hatch (1889-1963) of New Mexico. (There was an earlier Hatch Act (1887), named for Representative William Henry Hatch (1833-96) of Missouri, concerned the study of scientific agriculture.) The Hatch Act of 1939 passed following several big corruption cases involving the burgeoning post-New Deal bureaucracy, and was aimed at the civil service. But by its terms, it applies to almost anyone on the U.S. government payroll.

Only the president, vice president, and appointees requiring Senate confirmation (such as Cabinet secretaries) are exempt. The original Hatch Act forbade government employees to raise funds, give partisan public speeches, or volunteer for any candidate or party. Among its provisions, the Hatch Act prohibited such practices as threatening, intimidating, or coercing voters in national elections; made it illegal for administrators in U.S. civil service to interfere with the nomination and election of candidates to federal office; proscribed the practices of promising and withholding certain kinds of employment and unemployment relief as a reward or punishment for political activity; and prohibited the solicitation of political contributions from relief recipients. Enforcement of the Hatch Act was always erratic, and there was no serious attempt to apply its general ban on politicking to the White House. The Hatch Act was amended in 1940 to put a $5000 ceiling on annual individual contributions to campaigns for any one candidate for election to federal office and to limit the contributions received and expended by political committees to $3 million a year.

The purchase of goods or advertising, the proceeds of which would benefit candidates for election to federal office, was prohibited. All provisions of the act relating to federal employees were extended to state employees engaged in any function financed by federal funds. Later statutes, especially those of the 1970s, dealt with the use and limitation of campaign contributions. In 1993, with President Clinton’s backing, the Hatch Act was amended to allow all these things, so long as they are done outside the workplace and government employees don’t exploit their positions for political purposes. The Hatch Act reform permitted more political activity by federal and D.C.

government employees andliberalized restrictions on partisan political activities by off-duty federal employees. Further, by Department of Defense (DOD) policy, Presidential appointees confirmed by the Senate and non-career SES members may not engage in actions that could be interpreted as associating the DOD with any partisan political cause or issue. (These amendments did not change the provisions applying to state and local employees.) With the 1993 amendments, many federal employees (including Army civilian employees) are now permitted to take an active part in political management or in political campaigns. However, certain federal agrncies and categories of employees continue to be subject to important restrictions on political activities (including partisan candidacy, solicitation of contributions, and on-duty political activity). The amendment specifically allows employees of the Executive Office of the president to engage in political activity. The law defines political activity to include anything campaign-related–organizing events, planning party strategy–except fund raising, which it completely prohibits.

These same limits apply to Cabinet secretaries and all other presidential appointees approved by the Senate. The president’s campaign or party must reimburse the government for the use of its offices and resources. The Clinton administration imposed additional Hatch-like regulations on itself. White House employees can work on their political projects only if they put in 40 hours’ work over the course of the week on official business. And the White House installed separate phone and fax lines for political work.

But these rules are not legally binding. And in practice, such distinctions between official and political White House work are almost meaningless. The following is a list of what federal employees can and cannot do under the amended Hatch Act. ALLOWABLE ? Be a candidate for public office in nonpartisan elections ? Register and vote as you choose ? Assist in voter registration drives Express opinions about candidates and issues ? Contribute money to political organizations ? Attend political fundraising functions ? Attend and be active at political rallies and meetings ? Join and be an active member of a political party or club ? Sign nominating petitions ? Campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, municipal ordinances ? Campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections ? Make campaign speeches for or against candidates in partisan elections ? Distribute campaign literature in partisan elections ? Hold office in political clubs or parties ? Express opinions about candidates and issues PROHIBITED ? Use your official authority or influence to interfere with an election ? Collect political contributions unless both you and the donor are members of the same federal labor organization ? or employee organization and the one solicited is not a subordinate employee ? Knowingly solicit or discourage the political activity of any person who has business with DOD ? Engage in political activity while on duty ? Engage in political activity in any government office ? Engage in political activity while wearing an official uniform ? Engage in political activity while using a government vehicle ? Solicit political contributions from the general public ? Wear political buttons on duty ? Place large political signs, banners, or posters on private vehicles while on base ? Be a candidate for public office in partisan elections (but see exception below) Exception: OPM has designated Centerville and Warner Robins as having a significant make-up of federal employees. As such, employees residing in these cities may do the following: 1. Run as independent candidates for elections to partisan political office in elections for local offices of the city.

2. Accept or receive political contributions in connection with the local elections of the city. However, candidacy for, and service in, a partisan political office shall not result in neglect of, or interference with the performance of the duties of the Federal employee or create a conflict, or apparent conflict, of interest. The OSC receives and investigates complaints of Hatch Act violations.

When warranted, the OSC will prosecute violations before the Merit Systems Protection Board. When violations are not sufficiently egregious to warrant prosecution, the OSC may issue a warning letter to the employee involved. Violations of Hatch Act provisions applicable to federal employees are punishable by removal, or a minimum 30-day suspension without pay. Violations of Hatch Act provisions applicable to covered state and local employees are punishable by removal, or, if the agency refuses to remove the employee, by forfeiture by the affected state or locality of federal assistance equal to two years of the charged employee’s salary.


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The Hatch Act Of 1939. (2018, Dec 09). Retrieved from