Campaign rules there for a reason, so obey them

The News TribuneSeptember 7, 2012 

Should supervisors in government agencies not so subtly suggest how workers should vote if they want to keep their jobs?

Should churches collect donations for a political cause that aligns with their beliefs and send them to the campaign?

The first scenario seems like a no-brainer.

Of course bosses shouldn’t apply political pressure in the workplace – especially in government offices. In fact, the Hatch Act expressly prohibits certain government employees from partisan politicking at work.

But that kind of pressure is exactly what some Seattle employees at the Federal Aviation Administration say they were subjected to, according to a complaint by Cause of Action.

The organization – which describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan government transparency watchdog – says that at a mandatory staff meeting in May, FAA managers urged workers to vote Democrat. If Republicans win, they allegedly said, the FAA budget might be cut, leading to job losses, furloughs and pay cuts.

The FAA says it’s taking the possible Hatch Act violation “very seriously” and will cooperate with any “review.” A better word might be “investigation.” If the allegations are true, heads should roll. Employees shouldn’t be subjected to that kind of pressure by their bosses.

The second scenario is a little less cut and dried.

Preserve Marriage Washington – the campaign behind efforts to repeal Washington’s same-sex marriage law – has instructed churches that are collecting donations from parishioners to put them in a larger envelope and mail them to the campaign. But that’s a violation of state election law.

It’s OK for churches to ask congregations to donate to a ballot measure campaign, and they can even distribute envelopes for that purpose. But they can’t collect the envelopes and send them to the campaign. That would violate anti-bundling restrictions that are part of an initiative approved by voters in 1992 to regulate campaign donations and spending.

The goal of the measure was to limit the perceived influence of special interests on campaigns. Toward that end, it prohibits any business, industry group or organization (which includes churches) from bundling donations. There is no such restriction on individuals.

To stay in compliance with state law, the donations must be collected by a campaign member or a volunteer designated by the campaign – not by the church – or donors must send in their contributions individually. That’s not really very complicated, but Preserve Marriage Washington is still giving donors erroneous instructions on its website, even after being contacted by the Public Disclosure Committee.

The fine distinctions in how contributions are collected might seem like nit-picking, but that’s the law – and it’s hardly an onerous one.

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