Not too long ago, it was considered ethically taboo to have White House staffers campaign on behalf of a president’s reelection — but now it’s being shrugged off as a non-issue in President Donald Trump‘s administration.
Eighty years ago, the “Hatch Act” was created to circumvent the usage of government employees to “influence the votes of others,” which is a behavior that has been admonished since the era of our founding father, Thomas Jefferson, who issued an executive order to combat the problem, as early as 1801.
However, this has been widely ignored by the Trump administration, which to date has had more complaints of violations filed against them than any other sitting president, according to the Office of Special Counsel.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this situation is the continual surge of complaint violations throughout Trump’s presidency, marking the growth of a disturbing trend.
View the graph below:
After the creation of policies to expand criteria for Hatch Act complaints in 2014, the Obama administration peaked at 151 violation complaints but saw a decrease the following year back down to 106, in 2015. However, they have since been on the rise, marking all-time highs at 253 complaints in 2017 and 263 in 2018.
2019 will likely prove to be no different in maintaining this trend, as there have already been 177 complaints filed with the Office of Special Counsel with four more remaining months in the fiscal year.
What happens when a White House staffer is found to have violated the Hatch Act?
Often times, the information is forwarded to the president where they can choose how to best act (or in Trump’s case, not act) on the situation. This was the case for White House Adviser Kellyanne Conway, who seems to be a repeat offender of the policy.
In March of 2018, special counsel Henry Kerner wrote a letter to the president, notifying him of Conway’s two definite instances of violating the Hatch Act by “advocating for and against candidates in the December 2017 Alabama special election for United States Senate.”
The letter went on to accuse the adviser of “impermissibly mix[ing] official government business with political views about candidates in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate.”
Even after receiving communication of the clear heightened concern of Hatch Act violations, Trump does not appear to be taking increased precaution.
A recent example of this can be traced back just a couple weeks ago when Trump decided to ditch the White House Correspondents’ Dinner to host a rally in Michigan.
Although it was a lackluster decision, in and of itself, there was nothing wrong with it. However, when the president also invited White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to campaign with him at his rally held on the same night, he once again chose to skate across the thin ice of violation territory.