The Hatch Act prohibits government employees from engaging in political activity while on the job or using government vehicles. The Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the law, regularly updates its official guidance on the law around campaign season.
The office this month published a reminder that any official campaign photos or fliers of Obama or Republican presidential candidates are prohibited around the office.
“Because President Obama is a candidate for reelection, the Hatch Act prohibits an employee from displaying his photograph in the federal workplace,” according to the OSC memo.
But the memo said federal offices may continue to display the official government-issued photo portraits of Obama and Vice President Biden and any government-issued photos of the president “conducting official business.” The photos must be displayed “in a traditional size and manner” and shouldn’t be altered any way.
Prohibited alterations include “the addition of halos or horns,” the memo said.
Pictures distributed by Obama’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee, or its campaign arm Organizing for America are off limits “even if they depict the president performing an official act,” according to the memo. The same goes for images of Obama doing something official that are downloaded from the Internet or cut out of newspapers.
But the memo said federal workers may keep photos of presidential candidates in their office if it was on display “in advance of the election season,” the worker is in the photograph with the candidate and if it’s a personal photo taken at a non-political event.
Hatch Act violations are rare, but occurred at least three times during the 2008 campaign season, according to OSC. In the first case, a Bureau of Engraving and Printing employee forwarded several partisan e-mails to her subordinates, including two messages that sought political contributions. The Merit Systems Protection Board, which reviews federal ethics violations, ordered the employee removed from her job.
In the second case, an Internal Revenue Service employee sent an e-mail soliciting contributions to Obama’s 2008 campaign to about four dozen recipients while on duty at her government office. MSPB ordered the worker suspended for 120 days.
Last month a Veterans Affairs doctor from Arizona learned he’s losing his job for e-mailing an invitation for a 2008 campaign fundraiser for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to co-workers and subordinates while on duty. According to OSC, he also forwarded an e-mail from an Arizona state treasurer candidate to a colleague just two days before he was scheduled to speak with OSC investigators about the first incident.
The doctor, John Bagdade, later said in an interview that he was never informed of the Hatch Act and its penalties during his VA new employee orientation session. OSC and VA officials would not comment on the case.
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