On December 28, 2012, President Obama signed into law an overhaul of the Hatch Act that eased the restrictions on state or local government employees seeking elected office.
The Hatch Act, as it existed prior to the enactment of the recent legislation (S. 2170), prohibited state and local government employees whose employment was connected to activities receiving federal funding from running as candidates for partisan political office; from using their official authority to influence an election or nomination; or pressuring or advising another state or local employee to make a political contribution.
Since the old legislation applied to state and local government employees whose employment was broadly defined as “being in connection with activities receiving federal funding,” it served as a blanket prohibition of nearly all state and local government employees from running for office. By way of example, after Robert J. Duffy resigned as mayor of the City of Rochester to become the lieutenant governor, the then deputy mayor, Thomas S. Richards, was sworn in as acting mayor. After a Hatch Act complaint was filed, Richards was forced to resign that position in order to run in a special election to succeed Mayor Duffy, forcing the appointment of a separate acting mayor in the interim.
The new legislation relaxes that restriction and takes effect January 27, 2013.
The legislation approved by Congress and signed into law by the president removes the prohibition on certain state and local employees running for elected office unless their salary is paid entirely by federal funds. Thus, in relaxing the restriction to employees whose employment is in connection with activities receiving federal funding to those only whose salaries are funded entirely with federal funds, the ability of state and local government employees to run for political office is expanded.
While the new legislation does expand the ability of state and local government employees to run for office, it still prohibits employees whose employment is “in connection with an activity supported by federal funding” from using their official authority to affect an election or nomination or to coerce or advise another state or local employee to make a political contribution. The new legislation also keeps in place the exemption of the governor, lieutenant governor, the mayor of a city, or other elected official from being subject to the terms of the Hatch Act.