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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.

-Tim Craig

By Washington Post Editors  |  July 9, 2010; 1:28 PM ET
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At some point will Gray address the issues, or maybe he should get rid of his firetruck that he uses for his parades.

he can't really throw stones at a glass house can he?

Posted by: pdv1 | July 9, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Gray IS addressing the issues. In action. The blatant violations of the Federal Hatch Act by the Fenty Administration demonstrates an immediate need to reel in public employees who are being paid to do one job but are carrying on campaign activities while on the government (taxpayer) dime.

I know where Gray stands on education because I have taken the time to READ his plan. It is still FUNDAMENTAL.

Since stealing is already a crime, they need to just enforce the current law to reign in Fenty and his crony friends and AG.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | July 9, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Ghandi needs to be fired too. The city can find 25 million dollars, instantly, in local funds to replace the 25 million they, today, were denied by the federal government to fund street car development, but Ghandi says the city cannot find the money to enforce the law.

If anyone is playing politics. it is the CFO and that should concern EVERY District resident.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | July 9, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

it's the Washington post playing politics with this headline. in truth this is Gandhi' staff doing their daily job of impact statements for proposed legislation. All the fiscal impact statement is saying is there not money in that account currently to cover the costs. If it's one thing we should all know is when the government has a priority THEY ALWAYS FIND THE MONEY!!!! Gray can have them transfer funds to support this program.

$100K isn't even a new FTE or position. it must be additional labor costs.

Posted by: oknow1 | July 9, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Jusr another reason DC shouldn't be granted statehood status. It is just too corrupt, run by dope dealers and criminals. It makes Chicago look good.

Posted by: madmike272 | July 9, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

@madmike272 -- oh, gee.. I didn't realize that there was an ethics ratification test that territories had to pass to gain statehood in the union. I must have missed that memo. While we're at it, let's go down the list of corrupt politicians and their states or districts in the U.S.; Hmmm, let's see Illinois has had 79 current or former elected officials that have been found guilty of a crime by judges, juries or their own pleas since 1972. That's three governors, two state officials, 15 state legislators, two congressmen, one mayor, three other city officials, 27 aldermen, 19 Cook County judges and seven other Cook County officials. And then there's New York which includes a former state Senate Majority Leader, former state Controller, former Liberal Party head, former Brooklyn Democratic boss, four former state legislators and a former city councilman. Another city councilman, Larry Seabrook (D-Bronx), has been charged with a crime spree involving more than $500,000.
But wait, let's look at New Jersey, where's there's so much political corruption THAT THEY'VE DEDICATED A WEBSITE TO IT:
Don't get me started on the states of Louisiana or Nevada which would literally run me into hundreds of pages to detail their political corruption. So tell me again how DC isn't deserving of statehood but these corrupt cesspools are?!?! You GOTTA be from New Jersey to buy that crap.

Posted by: DarkWater | July 9, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

FYI pdv1. The firetruck Chairman Gray uses in parades and in campaigning is privately owned.

Joseph A Bright
Member DC Firefighters Assoc Local 36 IAFF

Posted by: brightj15 | July 10, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

@Darkwater, You rock!

Posted by: fivetogo | July 10, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

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