The Orange County Register reported yesterday on the attempted exit from the race by the lone Republican in the race, Jose “Joe” Moreno. It seems that Mr. Moreno’s candidacy poses a problem for his employer, the County of Orange Social Services Agency.
The Hatch Act, a federal law, restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state or local executive agencies and who work in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants. Usually, employment with a state or local agency constitutes the principal employment of the employee in question. However, when an employee holds two or more jobs, principal employment is generally deemed to be that job which accounts for the most work time and the most earned income.
The Office of Special Counsel provides the following example of what types of employees are covered by the law.
The following list offers examples of the types of programs which frequently receive financial assistance from the federal government: public health, public welfare, housing, urban renewal and area redevelopment, employment security, labor and industry training, public works, conservation, agricultural, civil defense, transportation, anti-poverty, and law enforcement programs.
Moreno is a county employee who’s salary is funded in part with federal funds. As such, he is prohibited from running for partisan elective office.The law applies even if he takes a leave of absence, or vacation, to run for Assembly. Chris Prevatt wrote extensively about the Hatch Act and it’s effect on public employees during the 2010 election season. Former candidate for the House of Representatives Cecelia Iglesias, had to resign her position as a contracts manager for the Social Services Agency because of the Act.
From the OCRegister story:
However, Moreno’s name will appear on the ballot because state law prohibits such withdrawals once a candidate has signed a declaration of candidacy and completed all other requirements to qualify, Kelley said. Moreno qualified on March 14.
In his letter, Moreno wrote: “I have learned that I may be violating the Hatch Act, as an employee working for a federally funded agency.”
Moreno told the OCRegister that he expects to lose his job.
“This Hatch act has been used as a political weapon to end competitive political campaigns, not to end corruption,” said Moreno, who added he will continue to actively campaign for the Assembly seat.
The fact that Moreno is actively campaigning will probably seal in that fate. While it is too late for his name to be removed from the ballot if he were to not actively campaign for the seat, it might have been possible for him to save his job. His decision to actively campaign leaves the county with a choice, pay a penalty of twice his annual federally funded salary back to the federal government, or force him to resign or be terminated. Moreno would be barred from working for the county for 18 months following the election.