So far, no, and the office enforcing the law is desperately seeking some updates.
Carolyn Lerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel, is pushing Congress to update the Hatch Act and to address aspects of the law that often bar state and local government employees from running in local or state elections if their position or employer is funded with federal dollars.
Lerner, who assumed her position in June, spoke Tuesday with The Federal Eye about her proposals:
Q: What are the big changes your proposals would make?
A. One is getting us out of the business of enforcing the Hatch Act in the context of state and local elections. The Hatch Act would still apply at the state and local level where employees are working in places that get federal funds, but it would mean that we couldn’t tell people they can’t run for office because their position is funded at all by federal funds.
After 9/11, there was a lot of money going to state and local governments from the federal government for security issues and police departments. But it’s also ambulance drivers, whose positions are funded by Medicaid or Medicare funds, who can’t run for county coroner. Deputy sheriffs can’t run for sheriff.
We’ve talked about a guy who’s in a K9 unit in Pennsylvania, and because his dog is funded for federal money, couldn’t run for school board. We had to be in the position of telling this gentleman who wanted to run for school that he couldn’t because his dog was funded from federal funds. That’s ridiculous, that’s absurd.
Q: How often do you hear from folks like this?
A: A lot. Cases come to us either when people ask us whether they can run for office, or when their opponents file a complaint with our office saying someone shouldn’t be in a race for school board or sheriff or whatever the local office is, because he works in a place that gets money from the federal government. And it keeps good people out of government.
(Lerner’s office later said that 80 percent of the cases they consider at the local and state level are campaign-related cases, when an opponent tries to block someone from running in a partisan race because of potential Hatch Act violations.)
Q: Would these proposed changes make it easier for a federal employee to run for a nonpartisan school board seat or a planning commission?
A: Our legislation doesn’t address that.
Q: And what’s the other reform you’re pushing for?
A: It’s in the penalty area. Right now, the presumptive penalty is termination. That’s the only penalty that’s provided for. Technically, if you were to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, they could mitigate the penalty down to 30 days, but really the presumptive penalty is termination.