What is the Hatch Act, and Why Does it Matter?

Carl Hatch, A former Senator, wrote the legislation for the Hatch Act in 1939 in order to limit partisan activity by federal employees, and to make sure the government functions both fairly and effectively. The act became law after employees at the Works Progress Administration, under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, engaged in congressional election campaigns.

The act itself prohibits: running for any form of office in partisan elections, sending or even forwarding a partisan political email while in a federal workplace, engaging in political activity while wearing an official uniform or while using a government vehicle, using official authority to interfere with or influence an election, soliciting or receiving political contributions, wearing or displaying partisan political buttons, T-shirts or signs.

The act applies to all civilian employees in the executive branch of the federal government, excluding the president and the vice president. Aside from few exceptions of other government positions, any such official must reimburse the U.S. Treasury for federal resources used in campaign activities.

Why is the Hatch Act important? It represents the way America stands apart and above authoritarian governments whose members must stay in accordance with those in power.

The Hatch Act has been in the spotlight lately as legal experts and lawmakers have stated worry and cause for concern over the ways President Donald Trump intermingles his politics and personal business.  The most recent example of this was his decision to have the White House as the backdrop for his acceptance speech during the Republican National Convention.

“This is so obviously, blatantly, insultingly a Hatch Act violation that it’s starting to seem like the Trump administration is going out of its way to find new ways to violate the law,” said Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.  The organization has cited over a dozen complaints against other members of the Trump administration.

Laws like the Hatch Act are important to keep power in check, to prevent privatized business incentive to dictate political policy, and to remind civil servants in elected government positions that they are just that, servants of the people, working-for and elected-by the people.


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