If there were any doubt that President Donald Trump viewed himself as a monarch, it was laid to rest by his use of public employees — and public property, including the White House — as props for the Republican National Convention, in violation of the Hatch Act.
The Hatch Act prohibits public employees from using their positions to participate in political activity.
When I started my career, I worked for the Employment Security Department, which was partially funded by the federal government, which made me subject to the Hatch Act. All employees receive training in the act’s provisions.
The Hatch Act is a federal law established in 1939, with only minor changes since, to provide a clear line between partisan campaigning and governing. The law restricts the political activity of executive branch employees of the federal government and seeks to ensure federal programs are administered in a non-partisan manner. The act also protects employees from political coercion and ensures that advancement is based on merit.
Any employee who violates the act is subject to removal from their position and loss of pay. The president, along with Vice President Mike Pence, are exempt and so allowed to attend the RNC. But everyone else who participated and is paid by the federal government does not have that privilege, and neither Trump nor Pence should have used federal property for partisan gain. Everything for those four days of the convention was for political gain.
It is also a violation to use official authority or to engage in political activity while on duty, in a government office or while wearing government uniform. That included the Marines who opened the doors for Trump, the staff who set up the chairs, mopped the floors, trimmed the plants, or worked to make everything in the White House beautiful.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called in from Israel, serving as another prop. Pompeo was in a government-paid room and got there by a government-paid plane. The federal government was paying for the border guards’ expenses and salaries while they were in Washington, D.C., and they were another prop for Trump’s ego. So was the naturalization ceremony, although we later learned two of the people had no idea what was going on, or that Trump would be there.
I have been to Fort McHenry in Maryland, and anyone who knows history will tell you it is a special place. You feel like you are walking through history, and you are.
But the saddest and most troubling of all was the politicization of the White House. That is the “people’s house.” It belongs to all of us. The president is a temporary resident. Trump has shown no interest in all the people who make the government work, and none will or should face repercussions for Trump’s decisions and violations. But another area of concern was there may have been 1,500 people in attendance, and very few had masks on or maintained any social distancing. How many RNC attendees came into contact with federal employees who were just doing their job?
The Hatch Act also covers the use of official authority to influence or interfere with an election. Does that sound like Trump opposing additional funding for the U.S. Postal Service to make it harder to use mail-in ballots? With the pandemic, mail-in ballots have become very popular, and Trump believes more people who are not likely to vote for him will use them. Is that why Trump is urging voters to vote twice, which in some states is a felony? But then if they get caught, he could pardon them.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel said Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, violated the Hatch Act on two occasions: one in the special Senate election in Alabama in 2017, and another time on “Meet the Press” with her comment about former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer using “alternative facts” in suggesting Trump had the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.”
Enforcement of the Hatch Act is determined by the executive branch. That means there won’t be consistency from one administration to the next, although there should be, and Conway is not going to lose her job. One media source said prior to the RNC at the White House there had been 13 violations of the Hatch Act under Trump and two under previous President Barack Obama. In fact, media reports say that the Office of Special Counsel ruled that the gardens and residence were not government property to get around the act. Really? Then who is paying the bill for us taxpayers?
The Hatch Act was passed to ensure fairness in our government, and all government employees know about it. It should never be violated — and certainly not so willingly by an incumbent president who was undoubtedly warned, but didn’t care.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.