The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has opened an investigation into whether the mayor's chief of staff, Kelvin J. Robinson, violated the federal Hatch Act by urging more than 200 political appointees to contribute money to the mayor's reelection campaign.

The action came in response to an article in The Washington Post last week on Robinson's comments at a meeting of mayoral appointees in August. Five of those who attended the meeting described the financial appeal on the condition of anonymity, and two specifically recalled Robinson telling the group, "Get out your checkbooks."

The Hatch Act, which governs political activity by employees of the federal and D.C. governments, prohibits solicitations of campaign contributions. The federal Office of Special Counsel enforces the law.

Mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock said Robinson initiated contact with the Office of Special Counsel last week after the article appeared. In that article, he said, "If anyone thought that I was soliciting campaign donations at that meeting or any other meeting, they certainly misinterpreted what I said."

Attorney Vandy L. Jamison Jr., who has been retained to represent Robinson, said last night that his client has long consulted with the Office of Special Counsel about the Hatch Act. "They've been talking for quite some time about all kinds of compliance issues," he said.

Robinson, 41, has been chief of staff to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) since August 2001. His comments at the meeting came shortly after Williams announced he would run a costly write-in campaign for reelection. Among the subjects of the meeting was how to avoid violating the Hatch Act while supporting the mayor's reelection effort.

Hatch Act investigations can take months. The presumptive penalty for a violation is termination, though a unanimous ruling of the three-member Merit Systems Protection Board can lead to a lesser penalty, such as a 30-day suspension without pay.

The Hatch Act is controversial in city political circles. Employees of city and state governments elsewhere generally are not covered by the law. All D.C. government employees are governed by it except the mayor, members of the D.C. Council and the register of deeds.

Dunbar Senior High School teacher Tom Briggs lost his job in April because he ran for the D.C. Council in a partisan election, in violation of the Hatch Act. He was later rehired by the school system, an action that has drawn renewed scrutiny from the Office of Special Counsel. His case is scheduled for hearing next week before a special federal appellate panel.