The Hatch Act was first passed in 1939 to protect against the development of an oligarchy where high level political appointees use their official titles and powers to sway elections.
Most federal employees who work for the executive branch are prohibited to some degree from participating in political activity. Members of the executive departments are held to less stringent standards, but use of public office as a soapbox for furthering their political ideology is still clearly forbidden.
According to the Office of Special Counsel, employees may not “use any e-mail account or social media to distribute, send, or forward content that advocates for or against a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.” Nor may they “express opinions about candidates and issues. If the expression is political activity, however – i.e., activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group – then the expression is not permitted 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.”
Yet, Hillary Clinton, her advisers and other state department employees did precisely this. Even though the server through which Clinton communicated was private, her use of it for official government business makes it effectively federal property.
Therefore Clinton’s private email conversations with Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski in which she expressed support for her re-election bid and championed an order of nuns that campaigned for Obamacare, were done in her official capacity as Secretary of State.
Lest this seem like a stretch, in 2012 Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was fined for violating the Hatch Act when she appeared at a campaign event in North Carolina and voiced support for the re-election of President Obama.
Clinton too ought to be fined for violating the provisions of the Hatch Act which forbid executive cabinet employees from using government powers or resources to aid in whatever political cause they happen to champion.
Then there’s the issue of Sidney Blumenthal. Though not a federal employee- he was, in fact, barred by the Obama administration from holding any such position- his continued sending of memos with political agendas is problematic. In August of 2010, months before the midterm election that would sweep the Tea Party to victory, Blumenthal emailed Clinton a lengthy memo detailing the rise of right wing extremism and how it was destroying the country. Then, in October, just before the election, he sent a cryptic email to Clinton about a “eureka idea” for the midterms he wanted to run past her.
Also in October he sent Clinton a memo which outlined a scheme wherein David Brock, a longtime ally to both Bill and Hillary, would intimidate women close to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in an effort to have him impeached.
Clearly, some sort of partisan machinations were at work. At the very least, Clinton listened to his schemes. And continued to do so for an extended period of time, right around an important election, allowing what she made official government channels at the very least be a mediator for such scheming. This may not be a direct violation of the Hatch Act, but it certainly has overtures of the same sore of self-aggrandizing power-driven stratagems.
Another ethical quagmire occurs in references made to CGI- the Clinton Global Initiative- by State Department aides. Though not a political group, it is a 501(c)(3), as are many political groups, which the Hatch Act would prevent Clinton from working to benefit in her official capacity. Yet, an email from a state.gov address references a payment to a United Nations fund for clean cookstoves by a Norwegian ambassador. The same message mentions the diplomat’s promise for further moneys paid and a desire to move quickly forward with a CGI deal, which sounds distinctly like an exchange of favors. Again, since the CGI is not a political organization, at least not overtly, the Hatch Act may not apply. But any demonstrable instance of foreign policy being swayed by the promise of personal rewards may have its own legal ramifications.
Hillary Clinton has certainly violated the Hatch Act. And if her hangers-on haven’t literally, though with the expansionism of statutory interpretation occurring at the federal level it hardly seems fair to narrowly tailor this scandal, they have in spirit violated the law.