Opponents of President Donald Trump called “foul” on Tuesday, claiming that several moments during the Republican Convention violated the Hatch Act.
The Hatch Act was designed to minimize the political activity of government employees.
The Hatch Act was first passed in 1939, and has been updated and expanded several times since. Most recently, the Hatch Act was updated in 2012 under then President Barack Obama.
Who is governed by the Hatch Act
The Hatch Act covers all federal workers except for the president and vice president. Government employees are generally classified under two umbrellas: Less restricted and more restricted.
More restricted employees, such as employees in the Secret Service, CIA, FBI, and Federal Election Commission, are held to a stricter standard. For most White House employees, they fall under the “less restricted” category, but even then, the act places limits.
Uniformed members of the military also fall under the “Hatch Act” in the “less restricted” category.
What the Hatch Act allows
It allows government officials to attend political events, rallies and fundraisers outside of their official duties. It also allows government employees to run for non-partisan office. And it allows government employees to express opinions on political issues and candidates while in a non-official role.
What the Hatch Act prohibits
For those under the “less restricted” category, federal employees cannot use their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election or engage in political 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.
For those in the “more restrictive” category, employees are barred from taking an active part in partisan political campaigns.
3 instances during RNC that raised questions
On Tuesday, there were three moments that brought up questions on possible Hatch Act violations.
- Citizenship ceremony
On Tuesday, Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf officially swore in five new US citizens inside the White House. In this case, Wolf used his official capacity as acting Homeland Security secretary to swear in the new citizens.
Also, moments before the swearing in, two fully-dressed Marines were seen in a video prepared by the RNC opening the door for Trump as he entered the room. Members of the military are also governed by the Hatch Act.
- Secretary of state’s visit
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on an official visit in Israel when he recorded his speech for the RNC. Sources told CNN that his speech was cleared by multiple lawyers, and that the RNC paid for his portion of the speech.
- First lady Melania Trump’s speech
First lady Melania Trump spoke from the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday. While presidents and their families have traditionally shied away from using the White House for re-election events, the Trumps have begun to embrace the complex, especially with in-person events being trimmed down due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the first lady is not a federal employee, and is not subject to the Hatch Act, using the White House would require staff to prepare the facility to be used for political purposes.
Penalties for violating the Hatch Act
Violating the Hatch Act could involve termination from your position and a civil fine. Last year, the Office of Special Counsel recommended that White House adviser Kellyanne Conway be terminated after she allegedly violated the Hatch Act on multiple occasions during television interviews and social media posts. Several other White House officials, including former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, have been warned by the Office of Special Counsel for political activities they have performed while on duty. Haley got dinged for retweeting a Trump tweet endorsing a congressional candidate.
Several high ranking Obama administration officials, including Secretaries Julian Castro and Kathleen Sebelius, had also violated that Hatch Act. Like in Haley’s case, the officials were simply warned by the Office of Special Counsel.