According to a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, IRS employees violated the Hatch Act by promoting Barack Obama during the 2012 election. One employee was given a 14-day suspension, while the OSC filed a complaint seeking disciplinary action against another and cautionary guidance was issued to the Dallas IRS office after pro-Obama paraphernalia and screensavers were discovered.
According to the report, one customer service representative urged taxpayers to vote for Obama in 2012 by repeatedly reciting a chant based on the spelling of the president's last name. OSC said it is seeking "significant disciplinary action" given the seriousness of the allegation and the employee's knowledge of the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan political activity by federal employees.
A tax advisory specialist in Kentucky admitted violating the Hatch Act and signed an agreement that included a 14-day suspension. According to the report, that employee old a taxpayer she was “for” Democrats because “Republicans already [sic] trying to cap my pension and . . . they’re going to take women back 40 years.” That employee, OSC added, had previously been advised about Hatch Act restrictions by her supervisor.
The employee reportedly explained that her mother always said, “‘If you vote for a Republican, the rich are going to get richer and the poor are going to get poorer.’ And I went, ‘You’re right.’ I found that out.”
“I’m not supposed to voice my opinion, so you didn’t hear me saying that,” she said. According to the OSC, the conversation with the employee had been recorded.
In a third instance, the OSC said that employees in the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center in Dallas, Texas, violated the law by wearing pro-Obama political stickers, buttons, and clothing to work and displaying pro-Obama screensavers on their government-provided computers. The report said investigators were unable to determine if the pro-Obama materials were displayed prior to the 2012 election or only afterwards.
"However," the OSC added, "since the information OSC received alleged that these items were commonplace throughout the office, OSC issued cautionary guidance to all IRS employees in the Dallas Taxpayer Assistance Center that they cannot wear or display any items advocating for or against a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate in the workplace," the report said.
This is not the first time federal employees have been caught campaigning for Obama while on the job.
In August 2012, we reported that an unnamed federal employee was suspended for 30 days from her position at the General Services Administration after campaigning for President Obama from her government office.
The Hatch Act is a 1939 law that restricts the political activities of civilian employees in the executive branch, with few exceptions. As part of the Treasury Department, the IRS falls within the executive branch.