Hatch Act

This information is important to you as a union official. It is also important to any employee with an email account.

The Hatch Act is often confused with prohibitions on lobbying. The Hatch Act deals with overt political support for or against a CANDIDATE running for partisan political office. It is all about ELECTIONS. However, the confusion comes into play because "political activity" is broadly defined. At times, a strictly issue-based email or posting on a bulletin board in the workplace can be construed to be political -- if the issue is associated with a partisan political party. Here are the basics you need to remember before you hit the "send" button:

  • "Political activity means an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group."
  • "Officials of labor organizations who have been given official time to perform representational duties are on duty" [and thus subject to Hatch Act prohibitions]. In other words, being on official time does not afford an employee who is a union official any exemption -- they are still covered by the Hatch Act.
Click here for the CFR on the Hatch Act. I've also attached examples of activities that crossed the line, even though they were not explicitly partisan. One had to do with an issue-based posting in the workplace, in which the issue was closely associated with a partisan political party (Advisory Opinion Political Activity Doc). The easiest way to get into trouble is by forwarding emails dealing with "hot button" issues like this. The other examples have to do with voter registration drives run by organizations that support a given candidate (Voter Drive Doc #1 & Voter Drive Doc #2). Even though voter registration is nonpartisan, OSC has ruled that whether or not it is violation depends on the motives of the organization running the drive (in this case, our sister union AFGE).

The line is not easy to define, but these examples should help. Penalties for a Hatch Act violation range from a reprimand to removal and debarment from federal employment for a period not to exceed 5 years. For more information on the Hatch Act, go to http://www.osc.gov/hatchact.htm.

Lobbying Activities: What's Prohibited and What's Allowed

A separate issue is other law that prohibits the expenditure of appropriated funds for lobbying purposes. An exception to this general prohibition is the negotiated provisions giving our Council Officers and those attending Legislative Week the right to communicate directly with Congress. However, union officials may not use appropriated funds for a different lobbying activity: attempting to influence others to contact Congress on pending or anticipated legislation. In other words, union officials, like any employee, may not use government email to forward "calls to action" on legislative matters. On the other hand, it is absolutely fine, and in fact an important function, to communicate with the employees we represent, including sending informational emails about issues of importance to the workforce.

For more information about the specifics of the union's ability to lobby and where the lines are, refer to the Legislative Training PowerPoint, posted at http://www.nffe-fsc.org/committees/legislative/.

/s/ Mark Davis
Mark Davis, President
NFFE Forest Service Council

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