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Hatch Act for State and Local Employees

Prompted by a concern that public employees might try to use the power of their offices to influence elections, Congress passed the Hatch Act in 1939. The Hatch Act limits the political activities of certain federal, state, and local employees. It does not, however, prevent these employees from participating in the political process. Congress made amendments to the Hatch Act in 1993 which broadened the types of political activities in which public employees may participate. This article summarizes the Hatch Act’s application to employees of state and local governments.

State and Local Employees Covered by the Hatch Act

The Hatch Act only applies to state and local government employees who work for an agency that receives federal funds. State or local agencies that typically receive federal funding, thus subjecting their employees to the provisions of the Hatch Act, include the following:

  • Public health and welfare agencies,
  • Employment security agencies,
  • Transportation offices,
  • Housing and urban development agencies,
  • Agricultural agencies, and
  • Civil defense offices.

The Hatch Act does not apply those state or local government employees who perform no jobs related to the federally funded activities. It also does not apply to those in education. Furthermore, the following state and local government employees are not prevented from running for an elected office:

  • Mayor,
  • State governor or lieutenant governor, or
  • Any person holding elective public office.

Restrictions on Covered State and Local Employees

State and local government employees who are covered by the Hatch Act may not:

  • Serve as a candidate for a public office in a partisan election (an election where candidates are placed on the ballot by political party),
  • Use his or her official authority to influence an election, or
  • Seek political contributions in support of a political candidate from his or her subordinates.

Political Activity Allowed by State and Local Employees

Under the Hatch Act, state and local governmental employees may engage in the following types of activities:

  • Becoming a candidate for public office in a nonpartisan election (i.e. school board),
  • Contributing money to political campaigns or attending political rallies,
  • Actively campaigning for candidates in partisan or nonpartisan elections, and
  • Holding offices in political parties.

Penalty for Violating the Hatch Act

If the Merit Systems Protection Board finds that a covered state or local government employee violated the Hatch Act and that the violation warrants dismissal, the employing agency must either terminate the employee’s job or forfeit federal funding equivalent to two years of the employee’s salary.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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