Gandhi: D.C. can't afford to stop workday electioneering
The District cannot afford to make it a crime for city employees to engage in politicking or electioneering while on duty or dressed in a city uniform or driving a taxpayer funded vehicle, according to a fiscal impact statement issued by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
The council is considering a bill by Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray called the "Prohibition on Government Employee Engagement in Political Activity Act of 2010," but it's unclear if it will be brought up for a vote before the council goes on summer recess later this month.
In addition to Gray, eight council members are cosponsoring the bill, which comes before the council in the heat of a intense mayoral campaign between Gray and incumbent Adrian M. Fenty (D).
Designed to replace the federal Hatch Act reach in local elections, the bill would make it illegal for city employees to use "official authority" to 'influence or interfere with an election," solicit or receive campaign contributions on government property, wear a political button, badge or t-shirt while on duty, distribute campaign literature at work, or transport campaign materials in a government vehicle.
Violators would face dismissal and civil fines of up to $2,000. Violators could also be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to 180 days in jail and $2,500 in criminal fines.
But because the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics would be charged with investigating complaints, Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi said the city cannot afford the new law. Gandhi estimates the proposal would cost the city about $100,000 in fiscal year 2011 and another $300,000 between fiscal years 2012 and 2014.
"The cost of implementation is attributable to staff needed to perform the required duties," Gandhi wrote in a fiscal impact statement released Wednesday. "The requirements of developing procedures and regulations, overseeing political activities of District and investigating complaints cannot be absorbed with existing resources."
Gray was not immediately available to comment.
His bill was spurred by a belief among some council members that it is currently too hard for federal officials to prosecute city employees accused of violating the Hatch Act. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act, which states employees "may not use their official authority or influence to interfere with the result of an election."
Although Gray's bill would likely not take effect until after this year's city elections, it is before the council amid a debate about whether Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's vocal support for Fenty puts her in danger of violating the Hatch Act.
This post was updated 3:40 p.m.
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