Pernicious. Anytime I’m reminded that word exists, I look for opportunities to use it.

Pernicious: slowly, subtly causing harm. There are all sorts of pernicious things out there!

I could promenade down the streets of D.C. and point out some pretty pernicious things. Cigarettes? Pernicious. Car exhaust. Pernicious. Texting and driving. Pernicious. Texting and walking! Particularly perniciously if I’m in your path. I could stand in front of the White House, jump up and down, flap my arms and scream, “Pernicious! Pernicious!” Since D.C. is sort of politics central, it’s a veritable road to pernition.


Politics. Politics? Politics! Partisan politics prove particularly pernicious! Partisan politics prove particularly pernicious when patronage becomes problematic. In fact, particularly partisan politics were proving particularly pernicious even before today, back in the late 1930s. During the course of congressional elections, politicians promptly promised positions in the Works Progress Administration in exchange for votes. Yes, yes, politicians of the Democratic persuasion were implicated. (But it was never proven! Can we move on, please?)

In a mythical, wonderful moment of a fabled phenomenon called bi-partisanship (really, it used to be a thing, bipartisanship, like when politicians from different parties play together productively), the Republicans and Democrats came together and sent legislation to the President to put an end to the kind of pernicious political play promoting patronage in the federal workforce. President Roosevelt thought about vetoing the law.

Being prudent, he put pen to paper and proceeded to sign the legislation. He embraced the principle as his very own property. Thus the Hatch Act.


The law’s named for the then-popular Senator Carl Hatch. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) puts the law pretty plainly: the Hatch Act “limits certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. The law’s purposes are to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.”

So if you’re a federal, state, District of Columbia, or local government employee, you could be subject to the restrictions of the Hatch Act. If you’re working in the Executive Branch, like the Department of Defense, Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, and so on, that would be you. From what are you prohibited? Well, OSC puts that plainly in a handy pamphlet you can print and pass around. Here are a few highlights.


You can’t “be a candidate for nomination or election to public office in a partisan election.” That one’s pretty black and white, but some are perhaps more subtle, more open to interpretation, especially when most every federal employee has a computer, palm pilot (sorry), the internet, and Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media accounts.

For instance, you can’t use your professional title if you’re engaging in political activity—it might look like you’re speaking for the government when you pan or promote a particular candidate or party.

You can’t “solicit, accept, or receive a donation or contribution for a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.” What does that mean? Well, you can’t host a political fundraiser. You can’t even ask your pals to join you at a political fundraiser, or sell them tickets, even if they ask!

Here’s a big one: you can’t “use any e-mail account or social media to distribute, send, or forward content that solicits political contributions.”

Here’s a prominent possibility: you can’t “engage in political activity — i.e., activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group — while the employee is on duty, in any federal room or building, while wearing a  uniform or official insignia, or using any federally  owned or leased vehicle.”

You can’t engage in political activity. In other words, if I’m at work or even not at work but on duty I have to curb my personal politics. I can’t let politics inform criticism or applause for any candidate, no matter what he or she says or does. I have to just keep quiet. Tough.

I wonder if I can break out my Trump or Clinton bobble heads, coffee cups, and all sorts of pernicious political paraphernalia after the election? After the election, one of them—or both of them—won’t be running for office. So, surely I can make my political preferences prominent.

Frankly, I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer. Ask your boss, or your legal counsel, or the Inspector General. Candidates who don’t win this time can run again, and the 2020 campaign starts November 9.

There are more things you can do, and a bunch of things you can do. So, read the pamphlet. Print it out. Post it on your door. Put pieces of Hatch-Act duck-tape over your eyes, mouth, and ears, and get to work.

You’ll be fine. Be quiet. Be careful. Do not be pernicious!


Oh, pernicious? Why pernicious? Why the plethora of p-words in the post? Why all the consonance? The official and surprisingly more fun title of the Hatch Act is “An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities.” It turns out that the playful congressional staffers responsible for producing a name for the legislation had a sense of humor. They knew that someday—somedaypeople might posit that it’s pretty patriotic to prevent pernicious politics like patronage.

(I’m making this up, now).

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.