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News | Oct. 11, 2016

You’ve got mail: The Hatch Act and email

By DLA Office of General Counsel and Office of Public Affairs

Most federal employees are aware they shouldn’t be discussing the particulars of their choice for president or member of Congress while at work or on federal property. And recent articles have made clear the rules regarding social media.

But what about email?

Can it really be against the law to send a link to a cartoon poking fun at one of America’s many lampoonable political aspirants? Or a newspaper op-ed you may not agree with but find interesting?

The answer to this and other questions appears below, in a conversation with a DLA OGC attorney.

If I send a coworker, via work email, a news article that doesn’t come from an official campaign but praises or criticizes a candidate, does that violate the Hatch Act?

Yes, it’s a violation of the Hatch Act. Partisan political activity doesn’t need to originate from an official campaign. It’s the act of advocating for or against a political party, candidate or political office that violates the Hatch Act. The source of the material doesn’t matter.

Can I send a coworker a link to an editorial or op-ed piece about a candidate via work email, if I do not express agreement or disagreement when doing so?

It depends. Is the op-ed piece advocating on behalf of or against a political party, candidate or political office? If the answer is yes, then no, you may not send the link, as you’re engaging in political activity. However, if the answer is no, and the op-ed is merely about current events or matters of public interest, then you may forward the link.

If I use work email to forward a link to a political cartoon that satirizes a particular candidate to a colleague I know will not mind, is that a violation?

Yes, it’s a violation. You’re still engaging in partisan political activity, even if it is a satire.

What if I forward the same link from my personal phone to the colleague’s personal phone, while we are both at work?

You’re still violating the Hatch Act. You’ve advocated on behalf of a political party, candidate or political office while on duty. It doesn’t matter if you’re using your personal device.

Does it matter if the candidate being satirized is the candidate I support? In other words, I just think the cartoon is funny, even though it’s at the expense of my candidate?

No, it doesn’t matter. If the cartoon is partisan political activity, then you’re violating the Hatch Act if you forward it to anyone other than your own personal email account.

What if I send a coworker, in the same email, a link to one cartoon that makes fun of one candidate and another link to a cartoon making fun of their opponent? If I do that, then no one could say I’m advocating for either candidate, right?

Wrong again. Giving equal time to both candidates doesn’t eliminate the violation. The Hatch Act prohibits advocating on behalf of or against a political party, candidate or office. That doesn’t mean you have to advocate against one candidate and on behalf of another to be in violation. In this situation, you’re advocating against both candidates, which would be in violation of the Hatch Act.

As Election Day approaches, stay tuned for more articles on abiding by the Hatch Act. In the meantime, more information can be found at DLA’s Hatch Act webpage and the Frequently Asked Questions section  of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel website.