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 U.S. Office of Special Counsel
 1730 M Street, N.W., Suite 218
 Washington, D.C. 20036-4505

OSC Seeks Disciplinary Action Against Head Start Official in Hatch Act Case
Executive Director of New Castle County (DE) Branch Allowed Candidate to Give Campaign Speech in Workplace

CONTACT: LOREN SMITH, 202-254-3714, lsmith@osc.gov
     WASHINGTON – On July 7, 2006, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel filed a complaint for disciplinary action against Jeffrey Benatti, Executive Director, New Castle County Head Start (NCCHS). OSC’s complaint, filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), charges Benatti with violating the Hatch Act by allowing a congressional candidate to give a campaign speech at a mandatory employee meeting during work hours on September 7, 2004. Paul Donnelly, the candidate, was also an NCCHS employee on leave to pursue his candidacy.

     Benatti introduced Donnelly at the in-service meeting and Donnelly passed out campaign materials. Employees were also given the opportunity to register to vote during the meeting. Employees testified that by allowing Donnelly to give a campaign speech, and by permitting voter registration at the mandatory in-service meeting they felt Benatti was attempting to obtain votes for Donnelly.

     Benatti’s authorization of a political candidate’s campaign speech during a mandatory staff meeting violates the Hatch Act’s prohibition against use of official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.

     Federally funded, private, not-for-profit corporations, such as NCCHS, are treated as State or local agencies for purposes of Hatch Act coverage if, as in this case, such organizations receive federal Head Start grants. State and local government employees are covered by the Hatch Act if their principal employment activities are funded in whole or in part by federal funds.

     NCCHS receives 80% of its approved budget in the form of Head Start funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In conjunction with the receipt of these funds, Benatti signs assurances that NCCHS will comply with the provisions of the Hatch Act. As Executive Director of NCCHS, Benatti’s principal employment activities are in connection with a federally funded activity.

     According to the complaint, prior to the September 7, 2004, mandatory in-service meeting, Donnelly told Benatti that he wanted to speak about his candidacy at the meeting. Benatti approved the request. The complaint further alleges that NCCHS employee Judith Guttenplan typed the agenda for the meeting. Donnelly’s speech was listed on the agenda as “State Election for House of Representatives, Paul Donnelly,” which the complaint alleges Benatti reviewed and approved.

     Special Counsel Scott Bloch said, “One of the main reasons for the original Hatch Act was to prevent political coercion and influence by supervisors in the public workplace. The ban on heads of offices allowing campaign events in the workplace is clear, and the coercive effect is real whenever the boss is seen as approving the candidate. The workplace should not be a place for partisan political activity, and violators will be prosecuted.”



The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state, county, or municipal executive agencies who have duties in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants. A covered employee may not use his official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election. When the MSPB finds that a State or local employee has violated the Hatch Act and that the violation warrants removal of the employee, the employing agency must dismiss the employee or forfeit a portion of the federal funds, equal to two years’ salary of the employee. The employee may also not be reappointed to a state or local position in that state for the following eighteen (18) months.