by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The Trump campaign is under fire in some quarters for violating the Hatch Act during the Republican convention. The episode perfectly illustrates the relationship between Donald Trump, the “Swamp,” and his pledge to drain it. That pledge was always about doing openly and bluntly what Beltway insiders have long done smoothly and discreetly; about breaking the monopoly of establishment Washington over shady business, rather than about actually cleaning up government in any way. If Congress ever gets around to becoming a lawmaking body again, it should end a lot of the pious pretenses in federal law that nobody seriously expects to see enforced against anyone important in politics. Instead, the law should refocus on the sorts of clear, limited rules whose violation can less easily be excused.
The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, is designed to prohibit federal employees from political activity in the workplace, mainly for the purpose of preventing federal managers from pressuring subordinates on how to vote, donate, or get involved. It also serves the secondary purpose of preventing federal resources from being used for campaign purposes. The president and vice president are exempt from the Hatch Act, and the First Lady is not covered because she is not a federal employee, but Cabinet secretaries and many White House staff are. …
… The norm, even when respected, has been something of an open fraud. Did anyone actually think that John Kerry or Hillary Clinton or James Baker (who had previously been a campaign manager for Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush) were apolitical figures? Or, going further back, that William Jennings Bryan, James G. Blaine, Henry Clay, or Thomas Jefferson were above politics? Three presidents (James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams) were elected president while serving as secretary of state.