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April 21, 2008

The Shock Of Recognition

I often fuss back and forth with one of our local Democrat bloggers. I think hes wrong much of the time, but my personal dealings with him have led me to recognize that he is, at his core, not a bad guy. And since hes a federal employee, I was thinking of sending him a link to this article from the Washington Post regarding the Hatch Act.

It's so easy. A friend sends an e-mail about the presidential campaign and you forward it to an office buddy.

With that click of the mouse, you are at risk of being fired. For a Hatch Act violation.

E-mails, blogs and campaign Web sites can be cyber-traps for federal employees, especially those accustomed to using their government computer for personal matters, such as trading messages with children or sharing jokes with friends.

The Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency that investigates and prosecutes allegations of improper political activities by government employees, is getting calls these days from federal workers who are confused about the rules or worried they may have committed an "e-Hatch" violation, said Ana Galindo-Marrone, chief of the Hatch Act Unit at the OSC.

After all, I razzed him last year about some concerns I had related to precisely such issues, wanting to see him avoid running afoul with the law one Ive though overly broad since the days when I worked at the base PX and had to limit my activities with the College Republicans accordingly.

And then I saw this bit at the end of the story.

In recent months, Galindo-Marrone has been touring federal agencies, explaining that technology is increasing the ways that employees can get into trouble at their office desks.

That is what happened to a NASA employee in Houston.

An OSC investigation found that in 2006 and 2007, the employee used his government e-mail account to coordinate and plan activities for a political group and to assist a candidate running for state representative while at his NASA office. He also made blog postings from work to promote campaigns of several candidates, and, at least twice in 2006, urged blog readers to make political contributions.

As a result, the OSC found him in violation of the Hatch Act. The employee was suspended for 180 days without pay.

The shock of recognition hit.

These were, in fact, the very issues I raised with my esteemed nemesis (and I do hold him in high personal regard).

To the degree that these efforts happened in the office, some action should have been taken. But the mere solicitation of political contributions on his blog on his own time should not be a violation of any law it should be regarded as First Amendment protected political activity, as should every act of soliciting and donating of campaign contributions by individuals, subject to no limitation whatsoever by the government. I respectfully urge Congress to restore the right to freely participate in the political process to all federal employees.


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