by Andrea Bernstein, WNYC // propublica.org // Aug. 12, 4 a.m. EDT
It’s Illegal for Federal Officials to Campaign on the Job. Trump Staffers Keep Doing It Anyway.
Trump administration officials have been cited 13 times for violating the Hatch Act, a New Deal-era law prohibiting government officials from engaging in campaigning.
President Donald Trump’s recent musings about staging his Republican National Convention speech at the White House drew criticism from government ethics watchdogs and even one Republican senator, John Thune of South Dakota.
The suggestion wasn’t an isolated blending of official presidential duties and the campaign. It was part of a yearslong pattern of disregarding such boundaries in the Trump White House. There is a law, called the Hatch Act, that prohibits most government officials from engaging in politicking in the course of their official work.
The law does not apply to the president or vice president. While other presidents took campaign advantage of the trappings of the office, something that came to be known as the “Rose Garden strategy,” they typically refrained from explicit electoral appeals or attacks on their opponents at official presidential events. Federal election law and measures governing appropriations prohibit using taxpayer dollars for electioneering.
Since resuming official travel at the beginning of May after a coronavirus-imposed pause, Trump has held 25 presidential out-of-town events. Of these events, transcribed on the official White House website, the president spoke about the election or attacked his opponent, Joe Biden, at 12 of them, nearly half. His presidential stage provided a venue for supporters to urge others to vote for Trump in November at three additional events.
Administration officials have been cited for breaking the Hatch Act 13 times by federal investigators at the Office of Special Counsel (not to be confused with special counsel Robert Mueller). Twelve more investigations are underway. The law dates from the New Deal era, enacted after a scandal where employees of the Works Progress Administration were pressured to work on the campaigns of candidates friendly to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.