Brien Claims Primary Opponent Violated the Hatch Act

According to Ian Donnis (via Twitter UPDATE: Ian has more), Rep. Jon Brien is claiming his primary opponent, “was ineligible due to a Hatch Act violation” because “Stephen Casey works for a fire department that gets federal funding.” Without having heard the specific claims, here is what the Hatch Act says, according to a Federal website:

Hatch Act: Who is Covered?
State and Local Employees
The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state or local executive agencies and who work in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants. Usually, employment with a state or local agency constitutes the principal employment of the employee in question. However, when an employee holds two or more jobs, principal employment is generally deemed to be that job which accounts for the most work time and the most earned income.
The following list offers examples of the types of programs which frequently receive financial assistance from the federal government: public health, public welfare, housing, urban renewal and area redevelopment, employment security, labor and industry training, public works, conservation, agricultural, civil defense, transportation, anti-poverty, and law enforcement programs.
Hatch Act provisions also apply to employees of private, nonprofit organizations that plan, develop and coordinate federal Head Start or Community Service Block Grant programs.
State and local employees subject to the Hatch Act continue to be covered while on annual leave, sick leave, leave without pay, administrative leave or furlough.
State and Local Employees – Prohibited Activities
Covered state and local employees may not:
be candidates for public office in a partisan election;
use official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the results of an election or nomination; or
directly or indirectly coerce, attempt to coerce, command, or advise a state or local officer or employee to pay, lend, or contribute anything of value to a party, committee, organization, agency, or person for political purposes.
State and local employees subject to the Hatch Act should note that an election is partisan if any candidate is to be nominated or elected as representing a political party, for example, the Democratic or Republican Party.
A note of caution – an employee’s conduct is also subject to the laws of the state and the regulations of the employing agency. Prohibitions of the Hatch Act are not affected by state or local laws.

Wikipidia notes that “The Hatch Act bars state and local government employees from running for public office if any federal funds support the position, even if the position is funded almost entirely with local funds.” (source). Seems like this wouldn’t be the first time a local government employee has run for office. Is this just the first time anyone thought to bring up the Hatch Act?

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JTR
JTR
9 years ago

Question – Jon Brien does legal work for both City of Woonsocket and CF…why wouldn’t he also be subject to the same prohibition?

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

If Casey’s fire department was in fact receiving Federal funding at the time of the election, then Brien may have a legitimate complaint. Why wasn’t this brought up during the election? Shame on Brien and his campaign staff for only bringing it up now when it is most likely too late.
JTR – Assuming Brien wasn’t an employee of those cities and he was doing general legal work not directly tied to a Federal project, the connection between him and any Federal funding that those cities received seems extremely far removed.

seirra1
seirra1
9 years ago

The Hatch Act has been interpreted (in at least one instance) to bar any elected official from supervising employees whose job may be funded in whole or in part by federal grants. I’m sure other agencies have interpreted it differently, not sure if there’s a bright line rule on how it’s applied.

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

I’m entirely in Brien’s corner. At the same time, under Ian’s post, Ken Block asks the question that’s puzzling the heck out of me:
“Do any sitting legislators have a Hatch Act conflict?? Any other candidates?”
So there are no currently working (i.e., not retired) teachers, police officers, firefighters in the RI General Assembly right now?

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

I maybe wrong Monique but I think there’s an exemption for teachers. At one time there were several police officers in the GA but I think the majority retired.

Max D.
Max D.
9 years ago

Here are some:
Representatives:
-Raymond Hull, Providence Police
-Raymond Johnston, Pawtucket Police
Senators:
-Hanna Gallo, Cranston Schools
-Mary Ellen Goodwin, Providence
-Roger Picard, Woonsocket Schools
-James Sheehan, Warwick Schools

David P
David P
9 years ago

5 USC 1501(4)(B) says that a “State or local officer or employee” does not include “an individual employed by an educational or research institution, establishment, agency, or system which is supported in whole or in part by a State or political subdivision thereof, or by a recognized religious, philan-thropic, or cultural organization.”
I’d be interested if anyone knows how this rather significant loophole got put in the act.

brassband
brassband
9 years ago

Assuming Rep. Brien is interpreting Hatch correctly . . . does it necessarily follow that Casey is disqualified to run under RI law?
It may be that there would be some impact on WFD funding, or on his ability to continue in the WFD, but just because his job prohibits him from running might not make him ineligible to be on the ballot as a matter of election law.

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

“It may be that there would be some impact on WFD funding, or on his ability to continue in the WFD, but just because his job prohibits him from running might not make him ineligible to be on the ballot as a matter of election law.”
That would be interesting. I wonder if they allow you a choice of removing your name from the ballot or leaving the job. I believe if he gets elected, he is subject to dismissal if the law applies.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Brassband – Leaving his job in the fire department after the fact wouldn’t address the fundamental concern behind the Hatch Act. The Act would have no teeth if people could run for partisan positions and then simply leave their old jobs when elected. The appropriate remedy would be to invalidate his election.

seirra1
seirra1
9 years ago

Hatch Act aside, isn’t there a problem with invalidating an election based on the rep-elects profession? Or prohibiting certain classes of people from holding elected office based solely on their employment?

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

“I think there’s an exemption for teachers.”
That would make more sense. And David P cited the loophole. I can think of at least one teacher but the firefighters and police officers who come to mind are/were all retired.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“Hatch Act aside, isn’t there a problem with invalidating an election based on the rep-elects profession? Or prohibiting certain classes of people from holding elected office based solely on their employment?”
We’re certainly in trouble if the public sector has become its own “class” of people. There is also a serious problem with allowing public employees to actively campaign, favor trade, and recycle political offices on behalf of a political party that promises them ever-increasing perks, salaries, and benefits. One has to look no farther than Rhode Island to see what such an inherently corrupt, incestuous loop can do to a political system and economy.
In any case, one can leave the position before one runs for office and be in compliance with the Act. Being a public employee is a choice and a privilege, not a right, despite what the unions and progressives might tell you.

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

The OSC will only prosecute if the employee accepts the position. They will not open an investigation if the employee removes his/her name from the ballot or turns down the position if elected.

seirra1
seirra1
9 years ago

Dan, being a cop or fireman is a privilege not a right, no argument there. I just don’t agree with limiting a persons participation in government just because of their chosen profession. If we were looking to ban a profession from the GA for the detrimental affect they’ve had on the corrupt culture of local politics I think we should probably start with lawyers.

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

“Representatives:
-Raymond Hull, Providence Police
-Raymond Johnston, Pawtucket Police”
… wait, I read too quickly the first time. Are these retired police officers?

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

“… wait, I read too quickly the first time. Are these retired police officers?”
Not according to their bio’s.

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

LOL! No offense Dan but I think sierra may have a valid point there. The numbers are staggering.

seirra1
seirra1
9 years ago

Checked the FOP opinion paper on the Hatch Act. It seems that being a cop and an elected official would violate the Act if your salary is funded by the Feds. So if you’re a cop hired with Fed Community Policing Grants your out of luck but if your paid with local tax revenue I think your OK.
Would the Act bar you from doing a highway detail where your pay would come from federal DOT funds? Could you be barred from doing anti-drunk driving details funded by the feds?

JohnD
John(@disqus_cihud2gmi1)
9 years ago

READY! FIRE! AIM!
A good lawyer would have done better research than to file this complaint, unless it’s only purpose is as a campaign strategy. I think it will be interpreted as a sore loser grasping for anything to try to win.
I would prefer a straight comparison of political positions on the issues. It’s what honorable people do.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Max – I don’t participate in a blanket defense of my profession, such as we see from union fraternities, but I have never been offered a valid explanation by the lawyer-hate crowd of how being a lawyer is anything but a benefit in a legislator. All being a lawyer means is that the individual has been trained in critical thinking, research, writing, government, and law – objectively good things for a legislator to understand. There isn’t a lawyers fraternity that protects and rewards itself, nor can lawyers use a built-in grassroots organizational structure to elect their own bosses and grant themselves pay increases like the unions can. Of course there is some risk of regulatory capture, but I would argue no more so than any other special interest group in the state. The reason we have so many lawyers in government is because that is what they have trained and are qualified to do. I haven’t seen any evidence that anyone is a worse legislator because they are a lawyer, but we have plenty examples of horrifically bad union candidates who view themselves as such and act exclusively for the benefit of organized labor special interests.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
9 years ago

I was a Federal employee and we were very well versed in the Hatch Act-it was aimed at Federal employees.I don’t believe police,firemen,and teachers in the GA are what the legislative intent of the Act was about.
I was in strong agreement with Federal employees being barred from political activity apart from voting and wearing a pin or having a bumper sticker.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Joe – I agree. Based on my own experience, it would be a disaster to have Federal employees campaigning on the job and plastering partisan materials all over their offices. It would turn the Federal government into a giant election machine, with 90% of the activity in most agencies likely going to Democrat candidates.
The Hatch Act has evolved with the Federal government. It was created at a time when Federal spending, headcount, and jurisidiction weren’t nearly so monstrous in scope, so it covers many more people than originally intended. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Maybe there should be mini-Hatch Acts for the states. As I pointed out already, Rhode Island is a sad case study in what can happen when you let the public sector turn into a taxpayer-funded partisan campaign machine.

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

Dan,
For the most part you’re correct on lawyers getting a bad rap. That said, given their track records,we apparently have the wrong lawyers in the GA. My guess is most of them are just looking for the cushy judgeship and 100 percent lifetime pension.

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