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Thursday, September 1, 2016

 8:31 AM 

Feingold unlikely to face legal trouble over GOP's Hatch Act complaint

In part because he's no longer an employee of the federal government, it appears unlikely Feingold will face legal ramifications from a complaint the state GOP filed accusing him of violating the federal Hatch Act. 

The state GOP filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel accusing Feingold of violating the law by laying the foundation for his Senate bid while still working for the State Department. 

An Office of Special Counsel spokesman said the agency does not generally comment on individual complaints or even confirm they've been received. Still, Nick Schwellenbach said the agency has jurisdiction only over current federal executive branch employees. 

Feingold left the State Department early last year before launching his Senate bid. 

"As a policy matter, OSC does not investigate Hatch Act complaints when our agency has no jurisdiction, such as when individuals are no longer federal executive branch employees," Schwellenbach said. 

The GOP complaint cites media reports that suggest Feingold was soliciting support for his eventual Senate bid before leaving the State Department. That includes meeting with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Jon Tester, D-Montana. 

The Hatch Act bars federal employees from certain political activities such as becoming a candidate for partisan office while still employed by the executive branch. That prohibition "extends not merely to the formal announcement of candidacy but also to the preliminaries leading to such announcement and to canvassing or soliciting support or doing or permitting to be done any act in furtherance of candidacy," according to an advisory opinion OSC released in 2009. 

According to OSC, violations of those provisions are typically employment-related in nature. The penalties would range from reprimands to termination. 

The 2009 opinion also advises federal employees are not prohibited from discussing their intentions to run for partisan office "with family and close friends." 

The Feingold campaign issued a statement from attorney Marc Elias that, "The Hatch Act does not restrict private conversations between employees and their family, friends, and colleagues. The Republicans' suggestion to the contrary is unfounded." 

The state GOP stood by an earlier statement demanding Feingold "explain these allegations," saying it is "not only a question of judgement, but ethics, honesty and accountability to the people of Wisconsin." 


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