Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Jason Chaffetz have taken the point in Republican congressional efforts to reform the Hatch Act. Good for them.
The Hatch Act rightly prohibits federal employees from using U.S. government resources to help elect candidates to federal office. Since it was passed in 1939, it has been successful in accomplishing that worthwhile goal. But the law also has a down side. It can prevent employees of state or local governments from serving in elected nonfederal offices if they have any connection with administering federal funds. They also can lose their jobs.
Former Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner is the local poster boy for what is wrong with the law. While he was heading Ogden's thin blue line, he won election to the Utah Senate. That was in 2006. During his campaign, a complaint was filed that he had violated the Hatch Act. An investigation ensued. He was elected to the Utah Senate and served one term. But the Federal Merit Systems Protection Board eventually held that he had violated the Hatch Act for signing a quarterly report for a federal grant that funded a new dispatch center for Weber County while also holding elected office.
Greiner did not run for another term. Ogden City fired him in 2011 to avoid paying a penalty of twice his annual pay. He spent $30,000 on his defense and the city's insurer was tapped for $293,000 in legal fees. He also was prohibited from working in law enforcement for 18 months.
The trouble with all of this is that Greiner's actions could not reasonably be interpreted as corrupting the election process or the administration of federal funds.
Greiner, like Lee and Chaffetz, is a Republican. But this injustice goes beyond party. Democrats in Congress agree with Republicans that the Hatch Act should be amended to end actions like those against Greiner. The federal attorney who is responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act agrees. She says her office's resources should be used to pursue federal employees who abuse the public trust, not people like Greiner.
Moreover, there also is consensus that political opponents use the Hatch Act to harass legitimate candidates for local and state offices.
Chaffetz has signed on as the lead Republican sponsor of H.R.4152 in the House. The bill's sponsor is Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. Lee is sponsoring an identical bill in the Senate.
It would eliminate the Hatch Act's reference to local and state officials. Congress should pass it.