An unidentified individual in Northern Virginia is shaking up the electoral process for the entire region.
While most federal employees are prohibited from running for political office, a government worker with political aspirations in Virginia’s King George County is close to changing that.
The Hatch Act of 1939 prohibits federal employees from seeking office in partisan elections and from soliciting and collecting campaign contributions.
The law addresses a concern first raised by President Thomas Jefferson, who believed federal employees should not influence the votes of others or take part in the electioneering process because it was “inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution.”
However, the Office of Personnel Management has made exceptions in the past for communities, predominantly in areas of Virginia and Maryland, that are within commuting distance of the Capitol.
Although King George County is more than 60 miles outside of the District, it’s likely to be the next region added to the exemption list.
A proposed rule change, published Aug. 22 in the Federal Register, would allow federal employees in the county to run as independent candidates in partisan elections, and to solicit and accept political donations on behalf of independent candidates.
The OPM could not discuss the proposed rule change until the comment period expires on Oct. 21, and the Office of Special Counsel did not return a phone call for comment, but according to the Federal Register, the change was proposed “in response to requests from a federal employee who resides in King George County.”
Although the request came from a single resident, the draft rule details a number of other reasons the entire region might qualify for an exemption.
According to the Register, “Principal factors leading to OPM’s determination are the proximity of King George County to the District of Columbia, the rapid growth of the county within the past few years, significant public issues associated with this growth, and a significant Federal presence within King George County.”
A significant federal presence is often cited as a reason for excluding a region from the Hatch Act, and this was likely the county’s strongest argument for the release. The U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center is King George County’s largest employer.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.