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Hatch Act: important information for municipal employees.

A more detailed version of this article can be viewed in the Nation's Cities Weekly section of the NLC website at www.nlc.org.

Did you know that many municipal employees are prohibited from running for public office in partisan elections? A federal law known as the Hatch Act regulates the political activity of state and local employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. Employees covered by the act are prohibited from running for public office in a partisan election, from misusing their official authority to interfere with the results of an election and from coercing political contributions from other state and local employees.

Who is covered by the Hatch Act?

The Hatch Act applies to an officer or employee of a state or local agency whose principal employment is in connection with an activity funded in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States or a federal agency. The Hatch Act only applies to employees in the executive branch of the government.

Are there any state or local employees who are exempt from the Hatch Act?

An individual who works for an educational or research institution, establishment, agency or system that is supported in whole or in part by a state or political subdivision of the state is not covered by the act. This exemption applies to employees of public school systems, including community colleges and state college and university systems.

What does "principal employment" mean?

"Principal employment" is an individual's primary job. If an individual has only one position or job, that is his principal employment. When an employee holds two or more jobs, principal employment is usually deemed to be the job at which the employee spends the majority of his time and from which he earns the majority of his income.

What are "duties in connection with a federally funded activity?"

An employee is covered by the act if as a normal and foreseeable incident to his employment he has duties in connection with an activity financed in whole or in part by federal funds. An employee does not need to have administrative or executive discretion over the federal funds to be covered by the act. Simply working in connection with the federally funded program causes the employee to be covered. Additionally, whether the employee's salary is funded in whole or in part with federal funds does not determine whether or not the Hatch Act applies. An employee whose salary is derived from municipal funds may still be covered by the act if he has duties in connection with a federally funded program.

How do I track federal funds that do not come directly to my agency?

If the municipal agency receives the federal funds indirectly, e.g., they pass through the state on the way to the city or town, the money is still federal for purposes of the Hatch Act. 2Any employee who has duties in connection with these funds will be covered by the act. Moreover, application of the act is not affected by whether the federal contributions are made in advance or as a reimbursement.

What activities are prohibited by the Hatch Act?

Covered employees are prohibited from misusing their official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election. Misuse of authority includes use of one's official title while participating in political activity and use of one's authority to coerce any person to participate in political activity. This prohibition is aimed at activities such as requesting employees to contribute a percentage of their pay to a political fund, influencing subordinate employees to buy tickets to political fundraising dinners, and advising employees to take part in political activity.

Covered employees are prohibited from directly or indirectly coercing a state or local officer or employee to contribute anything of value to a political party or candidate. This prohibition prevents employees from asking other state or local employees to contribute money or time to political organizations or parties.

Covered employees are prohibited from becoming candidates for public office in partisan elections. A partisan election is an election where the candidates are running with party affiliation, i.e., an election in which any candidate represents, for example, the Democratic or Republican party. Employees should be aware that the prohibition against candidacy applies not only to formal announcement of candidacy, but also to preliminary actions leading up to announcement, such as circulating nominating petitions, raising money and organizing a campaign committee.

Who is responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act?

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is charged with enforcing the Hatch Act. Complaints of violations should be made in writing to OSC. When OSC makes a determination that a violation of the act has occurred, a complaint for disciplinary action may be filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

What is the penalty for violating the Hatch Act?

If the MSPB finds that a violation has occurred there are only two alternatives: removal or no penalty. To decide if removal is warranted, it must be determined whether the prohibited activity was substantial in scope and whether the circumstances demonstrate that the employee acted knowingly in disregard of the law. Once the MSPB finds that the offense warrants dismissal from employment, the employing agency must either dismiss the employee or forfeit a portion of the federal assistance equal to two years salary of the employee.

Details: Additional information about the Hatch Act can be found at www.osc.gov.
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Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Abstract
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 20, 2002
Words:919
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