Washington, DC — The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has issued an advisory forbidding Presidential or other candidates “for partisan political office” from campaign appearances at federal facilities, including national parks, monuments, federal housing projects and post offices. OSC’s directive is dated August 9, the same day Senator John Kerry and his Democratic Party running mate, Sen. John Edwards, appeared at Grand Canyon National Park, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Citing “various complaints concerning the granting of requests from candidates and/or their campaigns to visit federal agencies,” the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has ruled that “campaign activities, such as town hall meetings, rallies, parades, speeches, fundraisers, press conferences, ‘photo ops,’ or meet and greets” are “prohibited” in federal facilities. A civil servant who allows such activity would be fired or suspended for no less than 30 days. OSC enforces the Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-7326) that forbids election activity with official resources or approval.
The OSC directive puts the onus on federal facility managers to prevent such actions by stating “Federal agencies should ensure that candidates who visit their facilities to conduct official business do not engage in any political campaign or election activity during the visit.” OSC concludes the advisory by saying “We strongly encourage all federal agencies receiving such requests [from candidates’ campaigns] to contact OSC prior to granting such a request.”
“By OSC’s rationale, President Bush should not be allowed to use military bases, the Statue of Liberty, or any other facility receiving federal funds for a political speech, but I doubt that OSC has cautioned the President’s reelection campaign,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the current Special Counsel is a recent Bush appointee. “Places open to the public should also be open to political speech.”
President Bush, his Cabinet secretaries and other high-level appointees are now deployed across the country making appearances designed to promote the President’s re-election.
In addition, OSC warns federal employees against “wearing campaign-related items while on duty or in a federal building or office.” This warning is being interpreted to require that employees remove campaign bumper stickers from personal vehicles if parked in government lots or if the car is used to transport the individual to any official function.
“Not surprisingly, this Bush-appointed Special Counsel has not mentioned, let alone defended, First Amendment rights of federal employees,” added Ruch whose organization is defending U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers, who was fired after OSC inaction for making accurate but allegedly unauthorized comments to the Washington Post. “The Special Counsel’s heavy-handed message manages a rare trifecta of being simultaneously overbroad, hyper-technical and unworkable.”