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The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state, District of Columbia, or local executive agencies and who work in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants. Usually, employment with a state, D.C., or local agency constitutes the principal employment of the employee in question. However, when an employee holds two or more jobs, principal employment is generally deemed to be that job which accounts for the most work time and the most earned income.
The following list offers examples of the types of programs that frequently receive financial assistance from the federal government: public health, public welfare, housing, urban renewal and area redevelopment, employment security, labor and industry training, public works, conservation, agricultural, civil defense, transportation, anti-poverty, and law enforcement programs.
Hatch Act provisions also may apply to employees of private, nonprofit organizations that receive federal Head Start or Community Service Block Grant funds.
State, D.C., or local employees subject to the Hatch Act continue to be covered while on annual leave, sick leave, leave without pay, administrative leave, or furlough.
Hatch Act provisions do not apply to:
Individuals who exercise no functions in connection with federally financed activities; or
Individuals employed by educational or research institutions, establishments, or agencies which are supported in whole or in part by state or political subdivisions thereof, D.C., or by recognized religious, philanthropic or cultural organizations (e.g., administrators, teachers).
The law also exempts certain specified employees from the prohibition on candidacy for elective office. These exemptions include:
The governor or lieutenant governor of a state, or an individual authorized by law to act as governor;
The mayor of a city;
An individual holding public elective office. This exemption applies only when the elective office is the position which would otherwise subject the employee to the restriction of the Hatch Act.
A duly elected head of an executive department of a state or municipality who is not classified under a state or municipal merit or civil service system; and
State, D.C.,, or local employees subject to the Hatch Act should note that an election is partisan if any candidate is to be nominated or elected as representing a political party, for example, the Democratic or Republican Party.
A note of caution - an employee’s conduct is also subject to the laws of the state and the regulations of the employing agency. Prohibitions of the Hatch Act are not affected by state, D.C., or local laws.
Employees may**, for example:
Register and vote as they 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 active members of a political party or club
Sign and circulate nominating petitions
Campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments and/or municipal ordinances
Campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections
Make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections
Distribute campaign literature in partisan elections
Campaign for and hold office in political clubs or parties
Volunteer to work on a partisan political campaign
Participate in any activity not specifically prohibited by law or regulation
**While engaging in these activities employees must be acting in their personal capacity, not their official capacity. For example, they should not identify their official title when engaging in any of these activities.
A note of caution—an employee’s conduct is also subject to state laws and the regulations of the employing agency. Prohibitions of the Hatch Act are not affected by state, D.C., or local laws.
If the Merit Systems Protection Board (“Board") finds that an employee violated the Hatch Act and that the violation warr ants dismissal from employment, the employing agency must either remove the employee or forfeit a portion of its federal assistance equal to two years salary of the employee. If within eighteen months of his removal, the employee becomes employed by a state, D.C., or local agency within the same state, then that agency, or the agency from which the employee was removed, may lose some of its federal funding.
On December 19, 2012, Congress passed the Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012. The Act allows most state and local government employees to run for partisan political office. Prior to this change, state and local government employees were prohibited from running for partisan office if they worked in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants. With the change, the federal Hatch Act no longer prohibits state and local government employees from running for partisan office unless the employee’s salary is paid for completely by federal loans or grants.
This change will allow hundreds of thousands of state and local government employees to participate more actively in the democratic process in their communities.
Before entering a race as a candidate, employees should consider the following:
A very small number of state and local employees may continue to be prohibited from running for office by the federal Hatch Act. Before running for office, take steps to determine that your salary is not entirely -- 100% -- funded by federal loans or grants. Your state, D.C., or local finance office should be able to clarify whether your salary is completely funded by federal loans or grants.
Does state, D.C., or local law prohibit you from running?
Nearly every state, many localities, and D.C. have ethics rules that govern the political activity of their employees. This includes, in some cases, the ability of employees to run for state, D.C., or local office. While the rules under the federal Hatch Act have been relaxed with regard to partisan candidacies, states and localities are free to implement more rigid requirements at their discretion. OSC does not keep a comprehensive list of state and local political activity laws, and OSC does not enforce laws passed at the state, D.C., or local level. Your state, D.C., or local ethics office should be able to clarify whether any provision of state, D.C., or local law prohibits you from running for office.
The Hatch Act Modernization Act did not change the federal Hatch Act’s prohibitions on coercive conduct or misuse of official authority for partisan purposes. A state, D.C., or local employee is still covered by these prohibitions if the employee works in connection with a program financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants, even if the connection is relatively minor. A covered employee who runs for office would violate the Hatch Act if the employee:
Uses his state, D.C., or local office to support his candidacy, including by using official email, stationery, office supplies, or other equipment or resources; or
Asks subordinates to volunteer for his campaign or contribute to the campaign.