Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
August 12, 2020
CONTACT: Jordan Libowitz


Washington – President Trump’s proposal to accept the Republican Party’s nomination for president on federal property could have wide ranging legal implications for White House and other federal employees, according to a letter to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) sent today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

While the president is exempt from the Hatch Act, the people who work for him are bound by it, and taxpayers must be reimbursed for any funds spent on the partisan event. The Hatch Act prohibits most executive branch employees from engaging in political activity, including behind-the-scenes activity, while on duty and on government property.  The law also bars executive branch employees from using their official authority “for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.”  Therefore, CREW is asking OSC to issue public guidance to the White House and other federal agencies to help prevent staffers from violating the law.

“Again and again, this administration has improperly used official positions and resources for political campaign purposes, even when ethics laws don’t allow it,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “Now it seems like the president is setting up civil servants to violate the law on a grand scale.”

The acceptance of the presidential nomination and the major address that accompanies it have traditionally occurred at the nominating conventions, massive partisan political events in major cities broadcast in primetime. After announcing he would not accept the nomination at the Republican convention in Charlotte to avoid following pandemic precautions ordered by the governor of North Carolina, then walking back his plan to do it in Jacksonville, the president this week narrowed down the locations to the White House and the Gettysburg battlefield, both properties run by the federal government.

“Ethics laws exist to keep those in power from using the government to keep themselves in power. That’s a thing dictators do, not American presidents,” said Bookbinder. “By holding his acceptance speech at the White House or at Gettysburg, President Trump seems to want it to give it the air of an official government event–exactly what the laws exist to prevent.”

We have seen a record number of Hatch Act violations by the Trump administration. In the months leading up to the November election, the number of apparent Hatch Act violations committed by senior White House staff, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, White House Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, among others, have increased dramatically. Guidance is needed to prevent this pattern from spreading even further.

Click here to read the letter.

U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC)
August 26, 2020

OSC Clarifies its Hatch Act Role in Light of Republican National Convention

​​In light of significant media interest in the Hatch Act over the last several days, and specifically its application to the Republican National Convention, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today released the following information to clarify its role.

OSC has jurisdiction to enforce the Hatch Act, a civil administrative law that limits the political activities of federal executive branch employees. But the law expressly does not apply to the President or the Vice President. OSC also has no statutory authority to enforce or advise on criminal provisions derived from the Hatch Act and found in title 18 of the U.S. Code—including 18 U.S.C. § 610.  That task belongs solely to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Under longstanding regulations governing the Hatch Act, there are certain areas of the White House where the Hatch Act does not prohibit federal employees from engaging in political activity. The South Lawn and Rose Garden are two such areas. Therefore, covered federal employees would not necessarily violate the Hatch Act merely by attending political events in those areas.

Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner: “Under the Hatch Act, OSC is charged with encouraging compliance with the law through its robust training and advisory functions. OSC's role does not include grandstanding or holding press conferences about potential violations that may or may not occur. Ultimately, officials and employees choose whether to comply with the law. Once they make that choice, it is OSC's statutory role to receive complaints, investigate alleged Hatch Act violations, and determine which ones warrant prosecution. Through this statutory scheme, OSC holds officials and employees accountable when they don't comply with the law. OSC takes its job seriously and in recent months has increased the number of Hatch Act Unit staff to respond to the growing number of complaints typically received during election years. OSC will continue to vigorously and even-handedly enforce the Hatch Act, consistent with its statutory authorities."