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Friday, September 10, 2010

Marking Violating Hatch Act with Website?

I reported Sunday that B. Thomas Marking is suspending his campaign for a couple weeks while he is away serving Uncle Sam. Marking is a reservist emergency responder for FEMA and will be away for training in Alabama until September 24.

Now if I had to be gone for a couple weeks just as a big campaign was heating up, I'd surely find a way to keep in touch with my potential voters and donors via e-mail and my campaign blog. But Dakota War College made a very good point Tuesday: under the Hatch Act, Marking can't even do that.

If applicable to reservist emergency responders (I'm still digging for that*), the Hatch Act restrictions on political activities for "less restricted" federal employees preclude Marking from doing the following:
  • knowingly soliciting, accepting, or receiving a political contribution from any person (this may be done in certain limited situations by federal labor or other employee organizations);
  • being a candidate for public office in partisan political elections;
  • engaging in political activity while on duty, in a government office, wearing an official uniform, or using a government vehicle;
While Marking is on duty or in any federal building, he can't distribute any campaign material. So I wonder, as did Mr. Powers: does that include automatically distributing campaign information via his website, as he continues to do as of my writing this morning? Does that include leaving his clever campaign videos dinging his opponents up on YouTube? It sounds as if the Hatch Act requires Marking to scrub his entire Web presence until he returns from Alabama.

Now there's no jail time for Hatch Act violations. Marking may stand only to lose his FEMA position. But Marking has struck me as smart enough that he'd know the ins and outs of the Hatch Act. Perhaps he hasn't left for Alabama yet, and the moment he does, we will see the website, donation button, videos and all disappear from the Web.

So I wonder: how does a current violation of the Hatch Act stack up in South Dakota voters' minds against habitual violations of state highway laws?
Update 2010.09.11 07:35 CDT: Ding ding ding! Found it! This September 18, 2008, advisory opinion from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel says that individuals who work or the government on an "irregular or occasional basis" are indeed subject to the Hatch Act while on duty. The opinion is specific to members of the Disaster Mortuary Operation Response Team, which is part of the National Disaster Medical System, which the FEMA administrator directs (see Stafford Act, Sec 503a.3.B). Marking is a FEMA disaster reservist.

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