The last weekend before Election Day is prime time for campaigning.


Oliver Solomon and wife LaDonna arrive at the Davenport, Iowa, public library to cast their ballot early in October 2012. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

That’s good for people who want to give a final push to their candidate, but it can be a confusing time for federal employees covered by the Hatch Act. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) enforces the law that regulates the political activities that federal workers may and may not engage in.

All civilian, executive branch employees, except two — the president and the vice president — are covered by the Hatch Act. That includes postal employees and part-timers. “However, employees who work on an occasional or irregular basis, or who are special government employees…are subject to the restrictions only when they are engaged in government business,” according to OSC. It has lots of information on Hatch Act do’s and don’ts.

Most staffers are in the “less restricted” category. “These employees may take an active part in partisan political management or partisan political campaigns,” the OSC Web site says.

OSC has a long list of things these workers may do:

  • May be candidates for public office in nonpartisan elections.
  • May register and vote as they choose.
  • May assist in voter registration drives.
  • May contribute money to political campaigns, political parties, or partisan political groups.
  • May attend political fundraising functions.
  • May attend and be active at political rallies and meetings.
  • May join and be an active member of political clubs or parties.
  • May hold office in political clubs or parties.
  • May sign and circulate nominating petitions.
  • May campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, or municipal ordinances.
  • May campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections.
  • May make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections.
  • May distribute campaign literature in partisan elections.
  • May volunteer to work on a partisan political campaign.

But “less restricted” doesn’t mean unrestricted.  Here are some of the restrictions OSC has identified. Less-restricted employees:

  • May not use their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election.
  • May not solicit, accept or receive a donation or contribution for a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.
  • May not be candidates for public office in partisan political elections.
  • May not knowingly solicit or discourage the participation in any political activity of anyone who has business pending before their employing office.
  • May not engage in political activity — i.e., activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group — while the employee is on duty, in any federal room or building, while wearing a uniform or official insignia, or using any federally owned or leased vehicle.

“Further restricted employees” include those in law enforcement and intelligence. OSC says they:

  • May register and vote as they choose.
  • May assist in nonpartisan voter registration drives.
  • May participate in campaigns where none of the candidates represent a political party.
  • May contribute money to political campaigns, political parties, or partisan political groups.
  • May attend political fundraising functions.
  • May attend political rallies and meetings.
  • May join political clubs or parties.
  • May sign nominating petitions.
  • May campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, or municipal ordinances.
  • May be a candidate for public office in a nonpartisan election.

But, further restricted employees:

  • May not be a candidate for nomination or election to public office in a partisan election.
  • May not take an active part in partisan political campaigns….
  • May not take an active part in partisan political management….
  • May not use their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election….
  • May not solicit, accept or receive a donation or contribution for a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group….
  • May not engage in political activity — i.e., activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group — while the employee is on duty, in any federal room or building, while wearing a uniform or official insignia, or using any federally owned or leased vehicle.

See the Federal Diary online later today and in tomorrow’s print editions of The Washington Post for more information, including comments from Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner.