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The Hatch Act is not a dead letter

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One excuse Savvy reporters have used to give the systematic lawbreaking at the RNC a pass (one presidential election cycle after treating not remotely criminal noncompliance with best practices as five-alarm scandals, at least for one candidate) is that the Hatch Act is just a paper restriction that is never enforced. The problem is that this argument isn’t true:

A Defense Logistics Agency employee was suspended for 30 days without pay last fall after giving his office colleagues a PowerPoint presentation that displayed the words, “Vote Republican.”

An Energy Department worker was forced to resign in January after admitting she gave a woman running for Congress a tour of a federal waste treatment plant so the candidate could show her expertise to potential voters.

Another civil servant began a 120-day suspension without pay from the Food and Drug Administration in July after creating a Facebook page with his name and photograph to solicit political donations and then co-hosting a fundraiser.

These were some of the recent consequences for federal workers who illegally mixed government employment with partisan politics in violation of the Hatch Act, the anti-corruption law Congress passed in 1939.

The New Deal-era law applies, on paper at least, to civil servants and political appointees alike. But the top Trump administration officials showcased in prime-time appearances and speaking slots at the Republican National Convention this week serve as a reminder that when it comes to flouting the separation between governing and politicking, there appears to be a two-tiered system of consequences.

In general, cynicism is a tool of the status quo and this is no exception. The Trump administration openly flouting laws that entail real consequences for less powerful people who violate them may not be treated as a substantial scandal but it certainly should be.

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