- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

District officials have proposed legislation to Congress and the D.C. Council that would exempt the city from federal enforcement of the Hatch Act and allow it to govern itself in that matter.

The bills, which regulate the way city government employees can participate in local politics, are another step toward District statehood, officials say.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, introduced the bill with Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, last week. Their bill would exempt the District from the Hatch Act, a 1939 anti-corruption law designed to prohibit federal workers from participating in political campaigns.

Mrs. Norton said her bill offers a win-win arrangement for federal and District governments.

“It gives D.C. a long-awaited home-rule victory without the Congress losing anything,” she said. “It’s very difficult to see an argument against it, frankly.”

Mrs. Norton, the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, said that under current law the federal government is forced to oversee and prosecute Hatch Act violations within the District.

“In this case, you free one of the offices of the federal government up from overseeing a local jurisdiction,” she said.

Enactment of Mrs. Norton’s bill is contingent upon the D.C. Council passing a bill similar to the Hatch Act. Mrs. Norton said she expects her bill to easily pass both the House and the Senate.

In response to Mrs. Norton, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, a Democrat who is running for mayor, introduced an employee political activity bill that would give the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics and the office of the D.C. Attorney General oversight of District violations.

“The whole point of this is more self-government,” said Charlotte Brookings-Hudson, general counsel for the D.C. Council, who authored the bill. “If we want to have this law we can impose it on ourselves. We are no longer an agency of the federal government. They gave us limited home rule and they kept certain things, but now that we can show that we can govern ourselves we should do so.”

Currently, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is the only government entity that oversees and prosecutes federal Hatch Act cases in the District.

All U.S. states, including Maryland and Virginia, have their own versions of the Hatch Act but are also subject to oversight by the federal government.

The OSC currently has 103 cases pending. Forty-one of those involve federal officials and 62 involve state and local officials. It was not clear how many of those cases are from the District.

Mrs. Cropp’s bill is similar to the federal Hatch Act, and includes rules against District employees using official authority to interfere with an election and a ban against soliciting and receiving funds for a political organization or candidate while on government property.

It also bans employees from giving out lists of names or addresses of District employees to fundraisers.

It does not, however, ban employees from receiving funds while off government property or ban employees from giving out lists of names or addresses for government contractors to fundraisers.

“The purpose of this is to impose a local law on this area that protects our employees from being forced to engage in political activities,” said Charlotte Brookings-Hudson, general counsel for the D.C. Council. “It’s local legislation to protect the rights of employees, not contractors.”

Since D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams took office in 1999, there have been a number of complaints to the D.C. Office of Campaign Financing and the OSC regarding the use of the executive office for political activities.

The most recent was a 2004 complaint against Mr. Williams’ Chief of Staff Kelvin J. Robinson. That complaint said in 2002, Mr. Robinson asked D.C. employees to volunteer to work on the mayor’s re-election campaign. Mr. Robinson resigned to take a private sector job several days before that complaint was filed.

Mr. Williams said he supports Mrs. Cropp and Mrs. Norton’s bills because they further the cause of home rule in the District. He said that any history of government corruption in the District should not block the city from governing itself.

Other cities and states who have also experienced government corruption in the past, such as Chicago or New York, are allowed to govern themselves, he said.

“The Hatch Act currently treats us as an agency of the federal government,” he said. “We are not, whether … someone may want us to be, we are not. And we fiercely resist being seen as an agency of the federal government and we should be given the same latitude and autonomy with our local affairs as any other city in the country.”

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