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Political Activities

Permitted and Prohibited Activities Overview
Less Restricted Employees: Permitted and Prohibited Activities

Further Restricted Employees: Permitted and Prohibited Activities

Social Media and the Hatch Act | Hatch Act: Candidate Photographs

Permitted and Prohibited Activities

All Department of Justice employees are subject to the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. 7323(a) and 7324(a), which generally prohibits Department employees from engaging in partisan political activity while on duty, in a federal facility or using federal property.  Political activity is activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group. The statute carries serious penalties including REMOVAL from federal employment.
The Hatch Act applies to all federal employees; however, application of its restrictions is broken down into two groups, based on position.

"Less restricted" employees, including most career employees in the executive branch, are able to participate actively in political management or partisan political campaigns, while off-duty, outside a federal facility and not using federal property.

“Further restricted" employees are held to stricter rules that preclude active participation in political management or partisan political campaigns, even off-duty. The following Department of Justice employees are "further restricted" by statute: all career Senior Executive Service (SES) employees; administrative law judges; employees in the Criminal Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Division; and criminal investigators and explosives enforcement officers in ATF. Further restricted employees may not campaign for or against candidates or otherwise engage in political activity in concert with a political party, a candidate for partisan political office, or a partisan political group.
Considering the Department’s mission, the Attorney General has previously determined that, as a matter of Department policy, all political appointees will be subject to the rules that govern “further restricted” employees under the Hatch Act to ensure there is not an appearance that politics plays any part in the Department’s day to day operations.  Guidance to all Department employees is provided in two memoranda from the Deputy Attorney General, dated December 17, 2011, one to career employees and one to appointees.

Any Department employees who have questions beyond what is included here should consult their component’s ethics official.

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Less Restricted Employees: Permitted and Prohibited Activities

Less restricted employees may:

  • Be candidates for public office in nonpartisan elections
  • Register and vote as they choose
  • Assist in voter registration drives
  • Contribute money to political campaigns, political parties or partisan political groups
  • Attend political fundraising functions
  • Attend and be active at political rallies and meetings
  • Join and be an active member of political clubs or parties
  • Hold office in political clubs and parties
  • Sign and circulate nominating petitions
  • Campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections
  • Make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections
  • Distribute campaign literature in partisan elections
  • Volunteer to work on a partisan political campaign
  • Put a bumper sticker on a personal vehicle and park the vehicle in a government-owned or subsidized parking lot, but may not use the vehicle in the course of official business
  • Display signs on their lawns and in their residences, and in similar personal circumstances
  • Express opinions about candidates and issues (if the expression is political activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office or partisan political group, the expression is not permitted while the employee is on duty, in any federal room or building, while wearing a uniform or official insignia or using any federally-owned or leased vehicle)

Less restricted employees may not:

  • Use their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election, e.g.:

    • may not use official title/position while engaged in political activity
    • may not invite subordinate employees to political events or otherwise suggest tosubordinates that they attend political events or undertake any partisan politicalactivity

  • Solicit, accept, or receive a donation or contribution for a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group, e.g.:

    • may not host a political fundraiser
    • may not invite others to a political fundraiser
    • may not collect contributions or sell tickets to political fundraising functions

  • Be candidates for public office in partisan political elections (In certain designated communities, including the Washington DC suburbs, an employee may run for office in a local partisan election but only as an independent candidate and may receive, but not solicit, contributions 5 C.F.R. § 733.101-107.
  • Knowingly solicit or discourage the participation in any political activity of anyone who has business pending before their employing office (The only statutory exception is for soliciting, accepting or receiving a political contribution to a multi-candidate political committee from a fellow member of a federal labor organization or certain other employee organizations, as long as the solicited employee is not a subordinate and the activity does not violate the restrictions noted below).
  • Engage in political activity while on duty, in a federal facility, wearing a uniform or official insignia, or using a federally-owned or leased vehicle, e.g:

    • may not wear political buttons/T shirts/signs
    • may not display/distribute campaign materials
    • may not perform campaign-related chores
    • may not make political contributions
    • may not post a comment to a blog or social media site advocating for or against a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group
    • may not use any email account or social media to distribute, send, or forward content that advocates for or against a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group

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Further Restricted Employees: Permitted and Prohibited Activities

Further restricted employees may:

  • Register and vote as they choose
  • Assist in non-partisan voter registration drives
  • Participate in campaigns where none of the candidates represent a political party
  • Contribute money to political campaigns, political parties, or partisan political groups
  • Attend political fund raising functions
  • Attend political rallies and meetings
  • Join political clubs or parties (but not hold office)
  • Sign nominating petitions
  • Campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, or municipal ordinances
  • Put a bumper sticker on a personal vehicle and park the vehicle in a government-owned or subsidized parking lot, but may not use the vehicle in the course of official business
  • Display signs on their lawns and in their residences, and in similar personal circumstances

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Prohibited Activities

Further restricted employees may not:

  • Volunteer in any capacity in connection with a partisan candidate or partisan election
  • Run as a candidate for public office in a partisan election
  • Campaign for or against a candidate in a partisan election
  • Host a political fundraiser
  • Invite others to a political fundraiser
  • Make a campaign speech
  • Collect contributions or sell tickets to political fund raising functions
  • Distribute campaign material printed by a partisan political organization
  • Organize or manage political rallies or meetings
  • Hold office in a political club or party
  • Take part in deliberations or proceedings of party conventions or convention committees
  • Circulate a nominating petition
  • Work to register voters for one party only
  • Be active on behalf of a candidate at a political rally or meeting
  • Use official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election, e.g.:
    • may not use official titles or positions while engaged in political activity
    • may not invite subordinate employees to political events or otherwise suggest to    subordinates that they attend political events or undertake any partisan political activity

  • Act as recorder, watcher, challenger, or similar officer at polling places in consultation or coordination with a political party, partisan political group, or a candidate for partisan political office
  • Drive voters to polling places in consultation or coordination with a political party, partisan political group, or a candidate for partisan political office
  • Engage in political activity while on duty, in any federal room or building, while wearing a uniform or official insignia, or using any federally-owned or leased vehicle, e.g.:
    • may not wear or display partisan political buttons, T-shirts, signs or other items
    • may not make political contributions to a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group
    • may not post a comment to a blog or a social media site that advocates for or    against a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group
    • may not use any e-mail account or social media to distribute, send or forward content that advocates for or against a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office or partisan political group (* at all times, further restricted employees may not post links to web sites created by or leading to information created by a political party, partisan candidate or campaign)

5 C.F.R. § 734.101-702

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Social Media and the Hatch Act

As a general matter, the Department of Justice authorizes some limited personal use of government time and equipment, including the Internet, where there is negligible cost to the government and no interference with official business.  However, partisan political activity in the workplace is treated differently than other personal use activities.  Since partisan political activity in the workplace is prohibited by the Hatch Act, employees may not use the Internet or any other government equipment to engage in partisan political activities.

Federal employees retain the right to have and express personal opinions about candidates, elections and political parties outside of the workplace, using their personal computers, phones, etc.  However, they need to have a heightened awareness of what they can and cannot post on a social media site.  Employees using Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and other social media sites must be careful that they set and monitor their privacy and other social media settings so that postings to their sites do not link political commentary with their DOJ title or position.

Most employees are “less restricted” under the Hatch Act and may be active in partisan political activity while not on duty or in a federal facility.  Those who are “further restricted” include employees in the career Senior Executive Service (SES), National Security Division, Criminal Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (Criminal Investigators, Explosive Enforcement), Administrative Law Judges and all political appointees.

The following list of permitted and prohibited activities will help employees decipher what they may and may not do in terms of political activity using social media.  The most important overarching Hatch Act restrictions to always keep in mind when using social media are:

(1) no partisan political activity while on duty, in a federal facility, wearing a uniform or official insignia, or using a government vehicle; (2) no soliciting, accepting or receiving political contributions at any time; and (3) no use of official authority or influence, including use of official title, to affect the result of an election. 

In many cases, most Federal employees MAY . . . (but, please note specific additional limits):

  • Write a blog expressing support of or opposition to partisan political candidates or parties (note:  not while on duty, in a federal facility; no use of official title in connection with the blog; no soliciting, accepting or receiving political contributions through blog; further restricted employees:  cannot take an active part in partisan political management and campaigns; therefore, cannot post anything on a blog that was created by or leads to information created by the party, partisan candidate or campaign)
  • List official title, only on the profile/intro page, of sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Linked In
  • Forward a political email from an employee’s government email to employee’s own personal email address (note: an employee cannot then forward the email from the personal address to others while on duty, in a federal facility, etc., even if using employee’s own smart phone or computer)
  • Campaign for or against a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan public office on a Facebook page (note:  not on duty, in a federal facility; no soliciting/accepting/receiving campaign contributions; can’t use official position to bolster the statements posted; supervisors may never send to subordinate employees an email directed at the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group or partisan candidate; therefore, messages and posts must not be sent to an exclusive group that includes subordinates but to all followers, friends; further restricted:  no posting links to political web sites in any case
  • Post a link to the website of a political party, partisan candidate, or partisan political group on a Facebook page or blog (note: not while on duty, in a federal facility; no soliciting/accepting/receiving campaign contributions; link can’t lead directly to donation/contribution page; further restricted: no posting links to political web sites)
  • Become a “friend”, “fan” or “like” the Facebook page of a political party, partisan political group or partisan candidate (note: not while on duty, in a federal facility; no soliciting/accepting/receiving campaign contributions; further restricted:  must adjust privacy settings so that lists of “friends” “likes” “interests” and “pages” with links are visible only to the employee)
  • Follow the Twitter account of a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate’s campaign (note: no soliciting/accepting/receiving campaign contributions, not while on duty, in a federal facility; further restricted: only if employee’s list of whom he follows is hidden from his own friends and followers)

Additional helpful information from the Office of Special Counsel: http://www.osc.gov/haFederalSampleAdvisoryOpinions.htm

 

 

Hatch Act Restrictions: Candidate Photographs

Displaying pictures of candidates for partisan political office in the federal workplace is considered engaging in political activity and barred by the Hatch Act.

This applies to the President, who is a candidate for re-election.  Therefore, federal employees may not display pictures of the President UNLESS:

  • It is a single copy of the official portrait of the President displayed in a traditional manner; OR
  • It is an official photo of the President at an official government event, such as a ribbon-cutting or bill-signing (newspaper, magazine photos of official events do not qualify)

In addition to the two exceptions noted above for display of Presidential candidate photographs, federal employees may not display pictures of any partisan candidate UNLESS:

  • The photo was on display in advance of the election season; and
  • The employee is in the photo; and
  • The photo is a personal one (depicting a personal relationship, such as attendance at a wedding), and
  • The employee has no political purpose in displaying the photograph

 

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Updated: September 2012