Conway accused of Hatch Act violation; what is the Hatch Act?

At least twice last year, White House aide Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act, according to the Office of Special Counsel.

Conway, an aide to President Donald Trump, has been notified that she was in violation of the law two times in 2017. The violations occurred when Conway gave interviews from White House grounds to Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” and CNN’s “New Day” defending the president’s support of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in his run for a U.S. Senate seat. Trump backed Moore who was accused of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls in the 1970s when he was a district attorney in Alabama.

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The Office of the Special Counsel said Conway advocated “for and against candidates,” which violated the act. The Office of the Special Counsel is not connected to Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

What is the Hatch Act and what is the penalty for violating it? Here’s a look at legislation.

What is the Hatch Act?

The goal of the Hatch Act is to "to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation." The act was established in 1939 and most recently updated in 2012.

Which federal employees are included under the Hatch Act?

A handful of federal employees, including the president and vice president, are exempt under the act. Here is a list of those included in the act:

  • Administrative law judges (positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 5372)
  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • Contract Appeals Boards (positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 5372a)
  • Criminal Division (Department of Justice)
  • Defense Intelligence Agency
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Federal Election Commission
  • Merit Systems Protection Board
  • National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
  • National Security Agency
  • National Security Council
  • Office of Criminal Investigation (Internal Revenue Service)
  • Office of Investigative Programs (Customs Service)
  • Office of Law Enforcement (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives)
  • United States Office of Special Counsel
  • Secret Service
  • Senior Executive Service

What are they prohibited from doing?

Those employees under the act may:

  • Register and vote as they choose.
  • Assist in voter registration drives.
  • Express opinions about candidates and issues.
  • Participate in campaigns where none of the candidates represent a political party.
  • Contribute money to political organizations or attend political fundraising functions.
  • Attend political rallies and meetings.
  • Join political clubs or parties.
  • Sign nominating petitions.
  • Campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, municipal ordinances.

They may not:

  • Be candidates for public office in partisan elections.
  • Campaign for or against a candidate or slate of candidates in partisan elections.
  • Make campaign speeches.
  • Collect contributions or sell tickets to political fundraising functions.
  • Distribute campaign material in partisan elections.
  • Organize or manage political rallies or meetings.
  • Hold office in political clubs or parties.
  • Circulate nominating petitions.
  • Work to register voters for one party only.
  • Wear political buttons at work.

What is the penalty?

Penalties range from a reprimand or suspension to removal from federal employment. The Merit System Protection Board determines if a hearing is needed to address the finding of a violation of the Hatch Act, and considers whether removal is appropriate on the basis of the seriousness of the violation.

The department the employee works for could also be called to forfeit federal funds equal to two years’ of pay at the rate the employee was receiving at the time of the violation.

From left, President Donald Trump's Chief of Staff John Kelly, and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway attend a joint news conference with President Donald Trump and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in the East Room at the White House.