Time to Enforce the Hatch Act on Karl Rove

The Hatch Act is a 1939 law that prohibits the use of federal money to support political causes. It’s an important law that many presidential administrations have nicked, dinged and outright violated,  without enforcement or consequences. But a thorough report by an independent federal agency shows that the Bush White House routinely violated the Act by creating a “political boiler room” that coordinated Republican campaign activities nationwide.

The report by the Office of Special Counsel finds that the Bush administration’s Office of Political Affairs, overseen by Karl Rove, served  as a virtual extension of the Republican National Committee, developing a “target list” of Congressional races, organizing dozens of briefings for political appointees to press them to work for party candidates, and sending cabinet officials out to help these campaigns. This included helping coordinate fund-raising by Republican candidates and persuading Bush  political appointees to help with Republican voter-turnout efforts.The report was based on over 100,000 pages of documents and interviews with eighty Bush administration officials in a three year investigation.

In other words, the Bush White House was guilty as hell. The Hatch Act matters, because it prevents, or is supposed to prevent, elected officials from using the government’s resources to hold on to power. If we allow presidential staff to use the machinery and resources of the White House for electioneering, it poses a genuine threat to democracy.

The Office of Special Counsel has no power to prosecute officials who are no longer in office, but the Justice Department can, and should. This is no partisan matter, like prosecuting officials for good faith, if misguided, efforts to prosecute a war and fight terrorism. Using government officials and tax payer dollars to change the outcome of elections is, essentially, cheating. It doesn’t matter whether the culprits are Republicans or Democrats: they are betraying the principle of fair elections, and breaking the law. Maybe if future Karl Roves (and James Carvilles. and Paul Beglalas) know that violators of the Hatch Act, even high presidential advisors, will be punished, this long-standing and outrageous practice will cease.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration, just last week, announced that it was terminating its own version of Bush’s Office of Political Affairs, as Mr. moving Obama’s re-election campaign operation to Chicago. Good. Now let’s indict Karl Rove and Co., and we will have made progress toward more ethical White House politics.

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