U.S. Attorneys:

Laws, Rules, and Policies Governing Political Activities

GGD-00-171: Published: Jul 24, 2000. Publicly Released: Aug 8, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed various laws, rules, and policies related to the political activities of U.S. Attorneys, focusing on: (1) what laws and Department of Justice (DOJ) rules and policies govern U.S. Attorneys' involvement in Hatch Act partisan political activities; (2) what types of activities are permitted and what types are prohibited; (3) to what extent have U.S. Attorneys been involved in Hatch Act partisan political activities; (4) what DOJ rules and policies govern U.S. Attorneys' involvement in issue-oriented political activities; (5) to what extent have U.S. Attorneys been involved in issue-oriented political activities; and (6) what statutory or other provisions govern U.S. Attorney Offices' expenditure of federal funds and resources for political activities.

GAO noted that: (1) U.S. Attorneys are prohibited from actively participating in Hatch Act partisan political activities; (2) generally, many restrictive provisions applicable to U.S. Attorneys are not imposed by the Hatch Act; (3) rather, they have been established under the Attorney General's discretionary authority and are documented in Attorney General policy memorandums; (4) these restrictions are similar to those that were imposed by statute on all federal employees before the Hatch Act Reform Amendments of 1993; (5) DOJ does not maintain or track data on U.S. Attorneys' participation in Hatch Act partisan political activities; (6) DOJ officials said that they are not aware of any violations of Attorney General restrictions related to the Hatch Act, since at least January 1995; (7) regarding issue-oriented political activities, before May 2000, DOJ rules and policies--as contained in the U.S. Attorneys' Manual--primarily addressed U.S. Attorneys' direct interaction with state and local legislative bodies; (8) in May 2000, DOJ revised the U.S. Attorneys' Manual to provide additional guidance and oversight related to public communications; (9) a new section to the manual--incorporating advice that previously had been given orally--discusses the need to be sensitive to comity considerations; (10) before January 2000, DOJ did not maintain or track data on the issue-oriented political activities of U.S. Attorneys at that the state or local level; (11) DOJ began to track U.S. Attorney Office inquiries related to such activities in January 2000; (12) DOJ's summaries of inquiries show that from January 19, 2000, to March 22, 2000, U.S. Attorney Offices contacted DOJ nine times for advice or approval regarding activities that involved or could potentially involve state or local legislative matters; (13) according to DOJ officials, beginning in May 2000, all activities that require prior DOJ approval under the revised U.S. Attorneys' Manual will be tracked; (14) over the years, Congress has imposed various restrictions on the use of federal funds for certain political activities; and (15) the restrictions applicable to DOJ have been construed to prohibit: (a) grass-roots lobbying in the form of agency appeals to the public to contact members of Congress in support of or in opposition to pending legislation; (b) publicity of a nature tending to emphasize an agency's own importance; and (c) covert propaganda activities.

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