Monday, February 7, 2011

Steve Simpson resigns and gets defensive about potential Hatch Act violation

In the Clarion-Ledger over the weekend, Molly Parker wrote about the Stephen Simpson-Hatch Act story we've been following here at Cottonmouth. (Click here and here for past posts on this issue.) There are two quotes from Simpson that stick out. First, Simpson says "(Stepping down is) in my best interest and the public's best interest before I become an official candidate." That's interesting, because it does appear that a Hatch Act violation occurs before someone becomes an "official candidate." Here's what the U.S. Office of Special Council (who investigates and prosecutes Hatch Act violations) has to say about what types of preliminary activities constitute a Hatch Act violation:
The prohibition against political activity 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. Because the statute has been interpreted to prohibit preliminary activities regarding candidacy, any action which can reasonably be construed as evidence that the individual is seeking support for or undertaking an initial "campaign" to secure nomination or election to office would he viewed as candidacy for purposes of 5 U.S.C. § 1502(a)(3). Therefore, you would be prohibited from writing introductory letters to local patty committees requesting the opportunity to meet with them and you would also be prohibited from meeting with individuals to plan the logistics and strategy of your candidacy.
The signs we featured in a previous post certainly didn't appear ex nihilo, nor did Simpson color them himself with a box of 64 Crayola crayons.

Of course, that probably explains why this happened:
Asked if he had raised or spent the $200 threshold, Simpson grew defensive and refused to answer the question.

"I'm clearly not going to discuss my finances with you," Simpson said. "What I'm going to tell you is I have not violated the Hatch Act, in my opinion."
For all of our sakes, Simpson had better be right. Because if he's not, he's just put a part of the budget for the Department of Public Safety in jeopardy. Under the Hatch Act, violations can be punished by forcing the State to forfeit federal dollars equal to two years of Steve Simpson's salary as Public Safety Commissioner.

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