The White House has come under scrutiny for potential violations of the Hatch Act, a federal law designed to prevent federal employees from using their official positions to influence elections.
According to a letter shared by NBC News, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates were found to have acted “contrary” to the guidelines of the Hatch Act. This followed a warning issued to Jean-Pierre for using the term “MAGA” to negatively describe certain Republicans, which is considered a violation of the 1939 statute.
The Hatch Act, officially known as “An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities,” is a pivotal piece of United States federal legislation, enacted in 1939. Its core objective is to maintain the integrity and impartiality of the federal workforce by ensuring that federal employees conduct their duties in a nonpartisan manner.
This law plays a crucial role in preserving the administrative processes of the federal government from being influenced by partisan politics. Under the act, federal employees are subject to specific prohibitions regarding their involvement in political activities. These restrictions are particularly stringent when employees are on duty, in a federal room or building, or wearing an official uniform.
The Hatch Act effectively seeks to draw a clear line between the professional responsibilities of federal employees and their personal political engagements, thereby safeguarding the federal service from becoming a tool for political leverage.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent government watchdog, highlighted that Jean-Pierre and Bates continued to use the term “MAGA” in their official communications, despite the previous warning.
The term, an acronym for “Make America Great Again,” is closely associated with former President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan. The OSC had previously issued government-wide guidance deeming the use of “MAGA” and similar terms as off-limits due to their campaign-related nature.
In a letter sent in October, Hatch Act Unit Chief Ana Galindo‐Marrone stated that since their June incidents, Jean-Pierre and Bates seemed not to have employed “MAGA” in their official roles. However, Galindo‐Marrone emphasized that the OSC would remain vigilant for any future breaches.
Galindo‐Marrone assured, “Please rest assured that we will continue to monitor the situation and reserve the right to reopen these cases.” When inquired if Jean-Pierre and Bates had “violated” the Hatch Act, as indicated in the OSC’s June 7 letter, following their use of MAGA in official statements again on June 14, OSC Communications Director Zachary Kurz chose not to respond.
A White House representative informed NBC News on Thursday, “We take the law seriously and uphold the Hatch Act.” Despite these actions, the OSC decided against any disciplinary action.
However, the lack of significant repercussions for Jean-Pierre and Bates could indicate a potential weakness in the enforcement of the Act. This is largely contrasted with instances where lower-level public servants faced serious disciplinary actions for similar violations.
This includes the use of campaign slogans like “Build Back Better,” “Finish the Job,” and “MAGA” in official communications. The advisory opinion also noted that while the phrase “Build Back Better” has been used for official Biden Administration policy initiatives, its use should be limited and not applied to new initiatives or programs.