The federal Merit Systems Protection Board is investigating possible violations of the Hatch Act by D.C. government employes who are alleged to have done work for Mayor Marion Barry's reelection campaign, officials of the board said yesterday.
James Sugiyama, associate special counsel for investigations of the board's Office of Special Counsel, confirmed that an investigation is taking place and that the Hatch Act violations are alleged to have been committed by members of the American Federation of Government Employes (AFGE), which has endorsed Barry's reelection bid.
The Hatch Act prohibits federal and D.C. government workers from active participation in partisan politial campaigns. The board has legal authority to impose penalities, including firing and suspending employes, for Hatch Act violations.
"There were some union activities involving District employes and the campaign that have been brought to our attention, and we are trying to find out the process at this point to determine exactly what happened," said Sugiyama. He declined to further detail the allegations.
Sugiyama declined to say how many persons were under investigation or when the investigation will be completed. He said the investigation had been launched after the board received several complaints, but would not disclose the source of the complaints. "I don't want to leave any implication that we are after Barry or the AFGE," said Sugiyama.
Ivanhoe Donaldson, Barry's campaign manager, questioned whether the federal merit board has the right to investigate possible Hatch Act violations by District of Columbia workers.
"That's garbage," said Donaldson. "They don't have jurisdiction. A local agency would have to handle that, probably the [D.C. government's] Office of Employee Appeals." Sugiyama said that the merit board is the body with jurisdiction in this instance.
A spokeswoman for AFGE said Kenneth Blaylock, head of the union, is in New York for a convention and declined immediate comment in his absence.
In addition to its inquiry into possible Hatch Act violations, according to a knowledgeable merit board source, the board also is collecting information on whether AFGE might be in violation of the District of Columbia's campaign finance laws by paying the salary of political organizer Jane Danowitz.
Danowitz is in charge of a union-sponsored phone bank operation and efforts to gain union support for Barry. Her operation is in a suite of offices on the same floor of the same building as Barry's reelection headquarters. Her union job description, obtained from a source, states that she works "under instructions of the manager of the campaign" to reelect Barry.
Danowitz said yesterday that she reports directly to the director of the union's Legislative and Political Affairs Department, but acknowledged that the union political director may consult with Donaldson in setting out Danowitz's tasks.
Under D.C. law, AFGE can give only $2,000 to Barry's campaign. The union has given $500 thus far. If Danowitz's work -- for which, she said, she is being paid at a yearly rate of $25,000 for a period of 90 days, or a total of more than $6,000 -- were judged to be a political contribution, AFGE could be determined to have contributed more than the maximum amount.
While the merit board is looking into this situation, the final determination would rest with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, which has not launched any probe of the Barry campaign.