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Volume 8, No. 2     March 30, 2012
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The purpose of this message is to remind you of the political activity restrictions that apply to all federal employees. These important rules help to ensure that the Government will function in a neutral, nonpartisan manner in carrying out its obligations to the American public.

If you want to get involved in the 2012 election campaign or any other partisan political activity during your own free time and while away from work, generally you may do so, provided that you comply with restrictions contained in the Hatch Act and certain criminal statutes. (Note that if you are a Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officer, an Administrative Law Judge, or a Career SES employee, you are subject to more severe restrictions and cannot engage in partisan political activities even during off-duty hours or while away from work.)

The Hatch Act rules limit participation in partisan political activities at the national, state, or local levels that are aimed at supporting or defeating political candidates for public elective office or directed to the success or failure of a political party, candidate, or partisan political group. The political activity restrictions for federal employees apply during the entire time of the employee’s appointment, and there are rules that apply both on-duty and off-duty. A series of criminal statutes that address patronage crimes, intimidation, and election offenses prohibit coercive “political shakedowns” designed to obtain support or contributions (for example, by promising to provide, or threatening to deprive, an individual of government employment, grants, contracts, or other benefits); ban the solicitation or receipt of campaign contributions on federal property; and proscribe the use of public office or authority for the purpose of affecting the outcome of an election.

The basic Hatch Act rule for most employees prohibits participation in partisan political activities, including the display of partisan political slogans, buttons, or posters or the dissemination of electioneering information, while on-duty, in any government office, or while driving a government-owned or leased vehicle or wearing an official uniform, insignia, or other indication of a governmental connection. (Note that Senate confirmed Presidential appointees are excepted from the ban on political activities during duty hours and at the workplace.)

The following activities are prohibited for all employees at all times, even when on leave, at lunch, after work hours, on the weekend, or away from the office.

An employee must:
  • Not run for public office in a partisan election
  • Not use official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election
  • Not use official title in connection with any partisan political activity
  • Not solicit or discourage the political activity of anyone having business before the Department
  • Not engage in political fundraising (except for certain limited situations involving off-duty, off-premises solicitation by federal labor organization members for their union multi-candidate political action committee)
These prohibitions mean, for example, that you may:
  • Not express support for or opposition to a candidate or political party in a speech before an audience composed primarily of individuals representing companies or organizations that have matters pending before HHS
  • Not ask anyone to give a political contribution of money
  • Not host or sell tickets to a fundraiser
  • Not allow your name to be used on an invitation to a fundraiser as a sponsor, point of contact, or as a member of a host committee
  • Not ask a subordinate to volunteer for a partisan political campaign
  • Not ask a business or organization to give services or to provide volunteers
  • Not accept contributions of money or business services
There has recently been an increase in political activity complaints and investigations, many related to the use of e-email and the internet. According to the Office of Special Counsel, the federal agency that enforces the Hatch Act, employees cannot use, while on duty or on government premises, either government or personal IT equipment or accounts to send any partisan political messages or to add partisan content to a political website or blog.

The following activities are permitted for all federal employees. You may:
  • Register and vote
  • Contribute money to political candidates or organizations (subject to federal or state contribution limits)
  • Assist in nonpartisan voter registration drives (those not aimed at registering voters for one party only)
  • Express personal opinions about political subjects and candidates (if the activity is performed in a manner that does not compromise the agency’s neutrality, efficiency, or integrity, or the efficiency or integrity of the employee; comports with time, place, and manner restrictions; is not otherwise prohibited; and, in the case of Commissioned Corps officers, ALJs, and Career SES executives, is not made in concert with a partisan political candidate, campaign, party or group)
  • Participate in nonpartisan campaigns (such as most school board elections) where none of the candidates represents a political party
  • Be a candidate for public office in nonpartisan elections
  • Campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, and municipal ordinances.
An explanation of the political activity restrictions (and the permissible activities) can be accessed at the website of the Office of Special Counsel (http://www.osc.gov/hatchact.htm). The HHS Office of the General Counsel Ethics Division is always available to provide information and assistance on this and other ethics concerns.

Edgar M. Swindell
Associate General Counsel for Ethics
Designated Agency Ethics Official
Hatch Act Compliance Counsel

*This article is a reprint of the publication distributed by the HHS News (HHS/ASPA) on February 7, 2012