The following is a summary of political activity restrictions under the Hatch Act Reform Amendments of 1993, its implementing regulations, and the Federal Criminal Code. This document was prepared by the HHS Office of the General Counsel, Ethics Division in 1997.
The Hatch Act Reform Amendments of 1993 authorize certain Federal employees to actively participate in partisan political activities on their own time and away from the federal workplace. Significant restrictions, principally in the area of fundraising and the solicitation of political service, still apply to these covered employees even during non-duty hours. The reform provisions do not apply to some career management and other employees who remain subject to severe restrictions, just as they were under the prior law.
The amended Hatch Act, effective February 3, 1994, permits the following employees to be active off-duty and off-premises in connection with partisan political management and campaigns:
- Senate confirmed Presidential appointees
- Non-career Senior Executive Service employees
- Schedule C employees
- Career competitive and excepted service employees
- Detailees under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act
Part-time or temporary employees are covered fully by the provisions of the Act. Intermittent or occasional employees, including those designated as special Government employees, are covered only when on duty.
The following employees may not under any circumstances take an active part in partisan political management or campaigns. These positions are subject to the standards in the original version of the Hatch Act and to the additional prohibitions mandated by the statutory revision and the implementing regulations at 5 C.F.R. part 734, subpart D.
- Career Senior Executive Service employees
- Administrative Law Judges
Uniformed service officers in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps are governed by equivalent standards in Departmental regulations at 45 C.F.R. part 73, subpart F.
Permitted Off-Duty, Off-Premises Activities
Under the new law, covered federal employees may, while off-duty, away from government property, and without use of a government vehicle, uniform, or official insignia, take an active part in political management or in political campaigns. Subject to these limitations and the prohibitions outlined in the next section, the following activities are permitted:
- Registering and voting.
- Contributing money to candidates, parties, and political organizations, subject to limits established by the Federal Election Commission.
- Expressing opinions about candidates and issues in private and in public (even when done in a concerted way to elicit support for a candidate or party).
- Assisting in both partisan and nonpartisan voter registration drives and serve as a registrar.
- Participating at the voting place on election day as either a partisan or nonpartisan clerk, judge, checker, recorder, challenger, or poll-watcher.
- Driving voters to the polls, whether as a gesture of goodwill, as part of an effort by a civic or other nonpolitical organization, or as part of a concerted, organized effort on behalf of partisan candidates or political parties.
- Attending political fundraising functions and making a speech that contains no appeal for contributions.
- Attending, participating in, organizing, or managing political rallies, conventions, and meetings.
- Serving as a delegate, alternate, or proxy to a state or national party convention.
- Joining as an active member, or serving as an officer, of a political party, organization, or club. (If serving as an officer, particularly treasurer, an employee must not personally solicit, accept, or receive political contributions. Handling, disbursing, or accounting for funds duly received by others, however, is permitted.)
- Initiating, circulating, or signing nomination petitions.
- Campaigning for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, and municipal ordinances.
- Campaigning for or against candidates in both partisan and nonpartisan elections.
- Distributing and displaying campaign literature, badges, buttons, stickers, signs, and other materials. (Political bumper stickers may be displayed on personal vehicles that are parked at work or used as incidental or occasional transportation for official purposes, such as driving to a meeting or training course. Bumper stickers must be covered when the private vehicle is: (1) used for official business on a recurrent basis; or (2) clearly identified as being on official business.)
- Stuffing envelopes with campaign literature that includes an appeal for contributions.
- Making campaign speeches.
- Organizing and participating in phone banks and voter preference surveys or opinion polls (but no solicitation of funds even anonymously).
- Soliciting contributions from non-subordinate employees for the political action committee of a federal labor or employee organization to which the soliciting employee and the donor both belong.
- Running as a candidate for public office in nonpartisan elections.
- Being politically active in connection with nonpartisan races or with a question which is not specifically identified with a political party, such as a referendum, ballot initiative, or proposition. Permitted activities, including fundraising, on behalf of such efforts (provided that the solicitation complies with the Standards of Ethical Conduct and Federal Property Management directives) and wearing buttons at work supporting or opposing nonpartisan candidates or unaffiliated referendum questions.
- Running as an independent candidate only in local partisan races in areas designated by the Office of Personnel Management as partially-exempt communities based on a high concentration of federal employees.
If an otherwise permitted activity is undertaken at the wrong time, at an unsuitable location, or in an improper way, a violation may occur. Specifically, federal employees cannot engage in political activities while:
- On duty;
- In a government office;
- Wearing a uniform, badge, insignia, or similar item identifying a governmental affiliation; or
- Using a government owned or leased vehicle or a privately-owned vehicle in the discharge of official duties. Note: Officials appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, with the exception of the Inspector General, may engage in permitted activities without regard to these time, place, and manner restrictions, provided that appropriated funds are not used to pay for the political activity
In defining duty hours and federal space, the following rules apply:
- Excused absences (administrative leave) cannot be granted to conduct partisan political activities.
- For Hatch Act purposes, officials of federal labor organizations who have been given official time to perform representational duties are deemed on duty, and union office space provided by an agency or instrumentality of the United States to the labor organization is considered part of the federal premises.
- In a government owned building or a privately owned facility that the Government has leased in its entirety, no partisan political activity may be conducted in the public areas such as a courtyard or lobby.
- No partisan political activity may be conducted in any space in a federal building that is leased to contractors, such as a cafeteria or fitness facility.
- In a commercial building where the Government leases less than all the space, covered employees may participate off-duty in partisan political activity in the common areas shared by all tenants, unless restricted by the landlord.
Covered federal employees, at all times (whether at work, after duty hours or on leave), shall:
- Not use official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election. (Misuse of official authority is defined to include such coercive actions as awarding contracts on the basis of campaign support or soliciting subordinates for any partisan political purpose.)
- Not use official title in connection with any partisan political activity. (However, a form of address, such as "The Honorable," may be used on letters, invitations citing the participant as a special guest or featured speaker, or when introducing a covered employee at partisan political functions.)
- Not coerce the political activity of other employees, or even ask a subordinate to volunteer on behalf of a partisan political campaign.
- Not run for public office in a partisan election, except as an independent candidate in local elections in specified communities, mainly in the Washington, DC suburbs.
- Not knowingly solicit or discourage the political activity of any person who has business before the employee's office or who is the subject of an agency audit, investigation, or enforcement action.
- Not solicit, accept, or receive political contributions from the general public. (Canvassing groups, businesses, or corporations to seek funds or contributions of paid or unpaid personal services for political purposes is prohibited. However, soliciting uncompensated volunteer services--as opposed to funds--from an individual who is not a subordinate is permitted, if done off-duty, off-premises, and without the specified indicators of a governmental connection.)
- Not ask for or collect political contributions from other federal employees unless both employees involved in the transaction are members of the same federal labor or employee organization and the individual solicited is not a subordinate.
- Not wear a partisan political button or display a partisan sticker or poster while on government premises or while engaged in official duty. (An employee's car with political bumper stickers affixed may be parked during the workday in an agency garage or a federally subsidized private parking lot. However, if the car is used for official travel on a recurrent basis or clearly identified as being on official business, the sticker must be covered.)
- Not participate in phone bank solicitations for political contributions, even if done anonymously. (However, stuffing envelopes with printed requests for political contributions is permitted.)
- Not sign campaign letters that include solicitations for political contributions.
- Not sell tickets or collect money for a fundraiser.
- Not host a political fundraiser at home. (However, a spouse who is not a covered federal employee may organize such an event, and the employee may attend. Additionally, an employee may organize an at-home event not intended for fundraising purposes, such as an opportunity to "meet and greet" the candidate.)
- Not permit the use of the employee's name as a sponsor, member of an inviting committee, or point of contact for a fundraising event. (An employee's name, though not official title, may appear on an invitation to a political fundraiser as a guest speaker, as long as the reference in no way suggests that the employee solicits or encourages contributions.)
- Not address a group seeking support on behalf of a candidate if the employee knows that the audience will be composed primarily of individuals or representatives of companies or other organizations that do business with or are regulated by the employee's office. (An appearance before a large, diverse group that is not specifically targeted as having matters before the employing office is permissible despite the presence of a number of problematic attendees in the audience.)
All federal employees, regardless of position, pay, duty, or leave status, are subject to criminal prosecution for the conduct summarized in the following statutes:
- 18 U.S.C. 595: Interference by Administrative Employees of Governments
- No administrative employee at the federal, state, or local levels of government, in connection with federally financed activities, may use official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or election of any candidate for federal office.
- 18 U.S.C. 600: Promise of Employment or Other Benefit for Political Activity
- No one can directly or indirectly promise employment, a raise in pay, a contract, a grant, or other government benefit as an enticement to, or reward for, political activity to be rendered in the future, in connection with any election, convention, or caucus.
- 18 U.S.C. 601: Deprivation of Employment or Other Benefit for Political Contribution
- Political contributions of money or services cannot be coerced by directly or indirectly threatening the denial or deprivation of any employment, payments, or benefits made possible under any federal program.
- 18 U.S.C. 602: Solicitation of Political Contributions
- Congressional candidates and incumbents cannot knowingly solicit political contributions from any federal officer or employee or from any contractor who renders personal services. Federal officers and employees similarly may not solicit political contributions from any contractor who renders personal services. Federal officers and employees in turn may not solicit political contributions from each other to the extent that the solicitation is prohibited by the Hatch Act. (Non-subordinate federal employee union members may be solicited outside the workplace on behalf of the union political action committee).
- 18 U.S.C. 603: Making Political Contributions
- Political contributions to any federal officer who is the "employer or employing authority" of the contributor are prohibited. (For executive branch employees other than members of the uniformed services, this provision no longer applies. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers remain subject to the ban which may preclude making contributions to the re-election campaign committee of an incumbent President.)
- 18 U.S.C. 606: Intimidation to Secure Political Contributions
- No federal officer or employee may promote, discharge, or in any manner change the rank or compensation of any other officer or employee, or promise or threaten to do so, for giving or failing to give any contribution of money or item of value for any political purpose.
- 18 U.S.C. 607: Place of Solicitation
- No person may receive or solicit any political contribution in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by federal officers, employees, or contractors who render personal services.
- 18 U.S.C. 610: Coercion of Political Activity
- No person may command or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, a federal employee to engage in, or not to engage in, any political activity, including voting, making political contributions, or working on behalf of any candidate.
Hatch Act Reform Amendments of 1993 and Implementing Regulations
Public Law 103-94, 107 Stat. 1001 (October 6, 1993)
Subchapter III of Chapter 73, Title 5, United States Code (5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-7326)
59 Fed. Reg. 5313 (February 3, 1994) (5 C.F.R. Part 733)
59 Fed. Reg. 48765 (September 23, 1994) (5 C.F.R. Part 734)
61 Fed. Reg. 35088 (July 5, 1996) (5 C.F.R. Part 734 Revised)
Federal Criminal Code
Chapter 29, Title 18, United States Code (18 U.S.C. §§ 595, 600-603, 606-607, 610)
Office of the General Counsel, Ethics Division
Department of Health and Human Services
You may also wish to review the Hatch Act information available from the US Office of Special Counsel.