Hatch Act

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The Hatch Act is a 1939 federal law that strictly limits the political activity of federal employees. It was designed to prevent the WPA from becoming a national political machine, and remains the law. Civil Service reform had a long history; the Pendleton Act (1883), supplemented by executive orders of Presidents Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt, limited the political activities of classified employees. The Hatch Act (1939) extended limitations to unclassified employees (that is, political appointees) as well.

Gall (1995) chronicles the Hatch Act from its passing in 1939, through its amendment in 1940, and to its further amendment in 1993. New Mexico Senator Carl A. Hatch drafted "clean up government" legislation that included a provision prohibiting federal employees from taking an active part in partisan political activity. The United Federal Workers of America (UFWA), an affiliate of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) challenged the law's constitutionality, but the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in United Public Workers v. Mitchell (1947) that government's need for "orderly management of administration" was greater than the appellant's freedom of expression. Organized labor won the long struggle, when in 1993 Congress passed a new amendment removing the restrictions.

The 1939 law was named after Senator Carl Hatch of New Mexico, the law was officially known as "An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities". There was also an earlier law, the Hatch Act of 1887, where Congress created agricultural experiment stations in each state.


All Federal employees cannot use their authority to affect the results of an election. They are also forbidden to run for office in a partisan election, to solicit or receive political contributions, and to engage in political activities while on duty or on federal property. They can't wear campaign buttons.

Certain higher-level or law enforcement Federal employees ("Further restricted employees") are subject to additional restrictions (for example members of the Senior Executive Service, Administrative Law Judges, or employees of intelligence or law-enforcement agencies):

  • be candidates for public office in partisan elections
  • campaign for or against a candidate or slate of candidates in partisan elections
  • hold office in political clubs or parties
  • serve as a delegate or proxy, or address a political convention, for example, to promote or oppose a candidate.
  • make campaign speeches
  • collect contributions or sell tickets to political fund raising functions
  • distribute campaign material in partisan elections
  • organize or manage political rallies or meetings
  • circulate nominating petitions
  • work to register voters for one party only
  • wear political buttons at work

Accusations of violation

On July 18, 2016, the Office of Special Counsel found that Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro violated the Hatch Act by endorsing Clinton for President during a television interview.[1]

On July 30, 2017, Corey Lewandowski called on President Donald Trump to fire Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because as a federal employee, he is exploring whether to run for Governor of Ohio.[2]

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a complaint alleging that Kris Kobach violated the Hatch Act, accusing him of using his position as a federal employee (as the vice chairman of the Election Integrity Commission) to solicit campaign contributions and to promote his current campaign for governor of Kansas.[3][4]

Trump 2020 Presidential bid

Shortly after taking office, President Trump filed with the Federal Election Commission to seek re-election in 2020. Most other Presidents waited until closer to the election to become an official candidate. In response, the Office of Special Counsel issued an opinion regarding what conduct would be impermissible under the Hatch Act. For example, OSC advised:

Because the 2020 election is still more than three years away, at this time not all expressions of support or opposition to President Trump constitute political activity for purposes of the Hatch Act. For example, the Hatch Act does not prohibit federal employees, either on duty or off duty, from wearing or displaying pictures of President Trump or items from his 2016 campaign, or expressing their approval or disapproval of President Trump or his Administration, policies, or actions. However, the Hatch Act does prohibit federal employees, while on duty or in the workplace, from expressly advocating for or against his reelection in 2020.[5]


  • Eccles, James R. The Hatch Act and the American Bureaucracy. (1981). 318 pp.
  • Fowler, Dorothy Ganfield. "Precursors of the Hatch Act," Mississippi Valley Historical Review 1960 47(2): 247-262. ISSN: 0161-391X
  • Gall, Gilbert. "The CIO & the Hatch Act: the Roosevelt Court and the Divided New Deal Legacy of the 1940s." Labor's Heritage 1995 7(1): 4-21. Issn: 1041-5904
  • Jones, Charles O. "Reevaluating the Hatch Act: a Report on the Commission on Political Activity of Government Personnel." Public Administration Review 1969 29(3): 249-254. Issn: 0033-3352 Fulltext: in Jstor and Ebsco
  • Masters, Marick F. and Leonard Bierman. "The Hatch Act and the Political Activities of Federal Employee Unions: A Need for Policy Reform," Public Administration Review, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Jul. - Aug., 1985), pp. 518–526 in JSTOR
  • Porter, David. "Senator Carl Hatch and the Hatch Act of 1939." New Mexico Historical Review 1973 48(2): 151-164. Issn: 0028-6206

See also


  1. OSC Concludes Hatch Act Investigation of Secretary Castro (July 18, 2016). Retrieved on August 8, 2017.
  2. "Lewandowski: Fire Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head for campaigning", July 30, 2017. Retrieved on July 30, 2017. 
  3. "Attorney group says Kobach violated federal law by promoting voter commission", Kansas City Star, July 3, 2017. Retrieved on July 24, 2017. 
  4. Eli Watkins, Kobach faces complaint over Trump's election commission, CNN, July 3, 2017; retrieved July 21, 2017.
  5. https://osc.gov/Resources/2017-President-Candidate-Guidance.pdf