CONTACT: Jordan Libowitz
Washington – President Trump’s proposal to accept the Republican Party’s nomination for president on federal property could have wide ranging legal implications for White House and other federal employees, according to a letter to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) sent today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
While the president is exempt from the Hatch Act, the people who work for him are bound by it, and taxpayers must be reimbursed for any funds spent on the partisan event. The Hatch Act prohibits most executive branch employees from engaging in political activity, including behind-the-scenes activity, while on duty and on government property. The law also bars executive branch employees from using their official authority “for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” Therefore, CREW is asking OSC to issue public guidance to the White House and other federal agencies to help prevent staffers from violating the law.
“Again and again, this administration has improperly used official positions and resources for political campaign purposes, even when ethics laws don’t allow it,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “Now it seems like the president is setting up civil servants to violate the law on a grand scale.”
The acceptance of the presidential nomination and the major address that accompanies it have traditionally occurred at the nominating conventions, massive partisan political events in major cities broadcast in primetime. After announcing he would not accept the nomination at the Republican convention in Charlotte to avoid following pandemic precautions ordered by the governor of North Carolina, then walking back his plan to do it in Jacksonville, the president this week narrowed down the locations to the White House and the Gettysburg battlefield, both properties run by the federal government.
“Ethics laws exist to keep those in power from using the government to keep themselves in power. That’s a thing dictators do, not American presidents,” said Bookbinder. “By holding his acceptance speech at the White House or at Gettysburg, President Trump seems to want it to give it the air of an official government event–exactly what the laws exist to prevent.”
We have seen a record number of Hatch Act violations by the Trump administration. In the months leading up to the November election, the number of apparent Hatch Act violations committed by senior White House staff, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, White House Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, among others, have increased dramatically. Guidance is needed to prevent this pattern from spreading even further.