Can Federal Employees Volunteer for Political Campaigns and Make Contributions? Election Do's and Don'ts
The second installment in a series about the rules and policies federal employees should know ahead of the midterm elections.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of pieces that will look at the rules and laws governing federal employees’ political activities as we head into the midterm elections.
The midterm elections are coming and as people across the country make campaign contributions and attend political fundraisers, federal employees might be wondering how, if at all, they can participate.
Federal employees are to various degrees subject to the Hatch Act, which restricts their political activity while at work. But the law still allows for them to do campaign-related things, which can vary by position and/or agency.
“No federal employee is prohibited from making campaign contributions, whether it's to a political party or to a campaign. The Hatch Act does not prohibit employees from making contributions,” an attorney in the Hatch Act division of the Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the law, told Government Executive. “However, all employees regardless of whether they’re less restricted, further restricted, a political appointee or whatever, all employees are prohibited from soliciting or receiving political contributions.” That applies both on and off the job.
There is one limited exception to the prohibition on solicitations. This is for “federal employees who belong to a federal employee labor organization and want to solicit contributions to that organization’s political action committee,” said the attorney. “Such employees may do so as long as [they] only solicit other members of the organization who are not subordinate employees. And they may not solicit while on duty or in a federal room or building.”
All federal employees can attend political fundraisers and less restricted ones can speak at them. Most federal employees fall under the “less restricted” category and are afforded more ability to engage in partisan political activity than those in the “further restricted” category, which includes federal employees at investigative and enforcement agencies. Federal employees should be aware if their agency further restricted employees who would otherwise not be (for example the Justice, State, Homeland Security and Defense departments).
As for organizing political fundraisers, for less restricted employees, “although the Hatch Act would prohibit an employee from hosting or serving as a point of contact for a fundraiser, the employee is allowed to help organize a fundraiser,” said OSC on its website. “For example, the employee could stuff envelopes, set up tables for the event, select the menu, or hire entertainment. However, the employee must not personally solicit, accept, or receive political contributions.” Further restricted employees are not allowed to organize a political fundraiser.
A spouse can host a political fundraiser as the Hatch Act does not extend to them. Less restricted employees can assist with their spouses’ fundraisers in a “limited capacity,” whereas further restricted employees may not, said OSC.
OSC’s website has answers to commonly asked questions and answers on specific scenarios relating to campaign fundraising.
In addition to its investigative and disciplinary duties, OSC provides advice on the law and has a hotline for Hatch Act-related complaints and an email for any questions on the law. The OSC attorney said: “We’re the agency that enforces the Hatch Act, so if you get guidance from us saying that you’re good to go, then that’s your best protection against violating the law.”
Click here to read the first piece in the election ethics series, which looks in more detail at which employees fall into the less and further restricted categories with respect to the Hatch Act.