Political Buzz

Talking WA politics.

NOTICE: Political Buzz has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Political Buzz.
Visit the new section.

UPDATED: Jinkins may be violating federal ban on office-seeking

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Oct. 22, 2010 at 1:58 pm with 23 Comments »
October 22, 2010 4:46 pm

(UPDATE 4:44 p.m: New comments included from Jinkins at bottom of post.)

A Tacoma public health official campaigning as a Democrat for the state house may be violating federal law and ineligible to run for elected office, The News Tribune has learned.

Laurie Jinkins

Laurie Jinkins, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s deputy director, seeks to fill the vacant 27th District House seat representing parts of Tacoma and Fife.

But because Jinkins’ employer – the health department – receives federal funds, her partisan candidacy may be prohibited under the federal Hatch Act, according to a review of the law and information provided by the United States Office of Special Counsel.

“It has long been established that an officer or employee of a state or local agency is subject to the Hatch Act if, as a normal and foreseeable incident of his principal position or job, he performs duties in connection with an activity financed in whole or in part by federal funds,” Terilyn Dentino, attorney for the OSC’s Hatch Act Unit, wrote in an e-mail to the newspaper.

Jinkins said this week she did not seek an advisory opinion from the OSC before declaring her candidacy, “because it takes them about 10 months to issue an opinion.”

But Jinkins, a former assistant state attorney general, said she read the law and also sought advice from a private lawyer.

“It was one of the things that I looked at very closely before I decided to run,” Jinkins said. “As far as I can tell, I’m not violating the Hatch Act.”

Jinkins’ opponent in the race – fellow Democrat and two-term Tacoma City Councilman Jake Fey – isn’t so sure.

“From my read, it looks to me like she potentially violated the act,” said Fey.

Fey, who also works for a federally-funded public agency – he serves as director of Washington State University Extension Energy Program – appears to be exempt from the act, because it doesn’t apply to “individuals employed by educational or research institutions,” according to the OSC’s website.

A determination as to whether Jinkins is violating the federal law has not been made. OSC officials, who are authorized to investigate potential violations, declined to say whether they’ve received a complaint or are now actively investigating the matter.

Dentino’s email provided general opinions and cited case law in response to The News Tribune’s questions, based on facts about Jinkins’ employment and candidacy.

“Whether an individual is covered by the Hatch Act is a very fact specific inquiry,” Dentino noted. “… If the employee is covered by the Hatch Act, she would be prohibited from running as a candidate in a partisan election.”

Passed in 1939, the civil Hatch Act prohibits federal executive branch employees from engaging in partisan political activities. The law also extends to employees of local and state executive agencies who work “in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants,” according to Dentino and clarifying case law.

As it relates to Jinkins, the operative part of the law appears to lie in the “in connection with” clause.

Jinkins has served as the health department’s deputy director for three years, handling the 270-employee agency’s day-to-day internal operations and overseeing its $36 million annual budget.

The $154,000 she makes in yearly pay and benefits is not paid by federal funds, but several programs within the department are federally funded. In recent years, about one-fifth of the agency’s budget consists of federal dollars, records show.

The question is: Does Jinkins’ work constitute “duties in connection with federally financed activities?”

Jinkins contends it does not.

“My salary isn’t paid using federal funds,” Jinkins said. “I’m not a decision-maker over where federal funds go. My job in terms of internal operations, it’s not about the programs that receive federal funds. And I don’t have anyone reporting to me that has authority over federal funds.”

Dentino and other OSC officials did not respond to follow-up questions about whether generally serving as a federally-funded department director constitutes a violation.

But other lawyers familiar with the law have specifically advised it applies to the kind of duties Jinkins performs.

“Whether the employee’s salary is paid by federal funds is not a relevant consideration,” Larry H. James, General Counsel for the National Fraternal Order of Police, wrote in a white paper on the Hatch Act.

James noted such duties that have been held to be “in connection with” a federally-funded activity have included an employee’s overall responsibility for the operations of federally-funded departments, reviewing federal grant applications and preparing annual reports regarding federal funding, among other activities.

Jinkins’ job description says she’s responsible for “planning, coordinating, evaluating and marketing major programs within the various divisions and the Department as a whole.” Her duties “may also include … preparing grant and program proposals.”

And, as a top budget official, she prepares and presents reports about the agency’s annual spending plan. In June, she delivered a presentation on the department’s 2011 budget that cited the agency’s use of federal dollars, records show.

Jinkins, who formally registered as a candidate in March, has been on unpaid leave from the department since July. Her reason for taking leave “wasn’t done specifically because of the Hatch Act,” she said, but “to focus on my campaign and to not mix my job and the campaign.”

Still, Jinkins said her on-leave status should be considered when viewing her candidacy in light of the law.

“My understanding is when folks look at the Hatch Act (to determine if a violation exists), they look at all facts and circumstances surrounding it,” she said.

Regardless of whether a restricted employee is working or on leave, the law’s prohibitions would still apply, Dentino said.

“If the employee is covered by the Hatch Act, she would be required to either resign from her Hatch Act covered position or withdraw her candidacy,” Dentino wrote. “Taking a leave of absence … during her campaign would not be sufficient to bring the employee in compliance with the law.”

The Jinkins-Fey race pits two well-liked Democratic candidates in a battle for the 27th District’s blue-leaning Position 1 seat, left open by Rep. Dennis Flannigan’s retirement.

Facing Fey and three others in the primary, Jinkins won the most votes and has since easily outraised Fey, the primary’s runner-up, for donations heading into the final days before the Nov. 2 general election.

Before declaring his candidacy, Fey said he checked about the Hatch Act with a WSU vice president and an assistant attorney general who advises the university.

“If that educational exemption wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have run,” Fey said. “The risk is not just putting people through the whole exercise, but it’s a show-stopper.”

Fey, who, as a city representative, now sits on the health board Jinkins reports to, said he has not filed a Hatch Act complaint against Jinkins.

But he added: “I’m aware that there are people that are concerned about it.”

Jinkins has run a positive campaign based on her qualifications as a longtime community activist and government administrator. She has won endorsements from a host of prominent officials, as well as from The News Tribune’s editorial board, who called her “a surefire leader.”

A potential Hatch Act violation by Jinkins for her state House campaign could put her employment or health department funding at risk.

If an investigation finds “the violation warrants dismissal … the employing agency must either remove the employee or forfeit a portion of its federal assistance equal to two years salary of the employee,” Dentino wrote.

A violation could also impact Jinkins’ future job options. The act prohibits an employee removed due to a violation from working at any state or local agency within 18 months, “or the agency from which the employee was removed may lose some of its federal funding,” Dentino wrote.

But should Jinkins make it to Election Day – and win — nothing in the federal law could undo her victory.

The federal Merit Systems Protection Board, which determines discipline for Hatch Act violators, “does not have the authority to invalidate the results of an election,” Dentino said, “even if the employee ran for public office in violation of the Hatch Act.”

Jinkins said Friday if the OSC were to advise her she is subject to the law, “I’ll do whatever they need me to do.”

UPDATED: Laurie Jinkins sent The News Tribune the following comments after publication of this blog post this afternoon:

Thanks for taking the issues I raised to your afteroon meeting. As I scoot out to my son’s soccer practice and you to a weekend off (hopefully), I just wanted to be clear about my request.

I believe that the headline and lead on the hatch act story are inaccurate and need to be adjusted. The headline and lead, suggest that I may somehow not be able to serve as a legislator. In fact, if found to be in violation of the hatch act, a candidate has three options 1) stop campaigning, or 2) make whatever adjustments are necessary to continue running and keep their job, or 3) resign from their job. There is nothing in the act that prohibits me from serving.

Obviously, I do not believe I’m in violation of the hatch act, otherwise I would have done one of the three above. I’ve done everything I can to make sure that I’m not violating the act.

I’m asking that you make the headline more accurate and that you either include some of my comments or some more accurate approach in the lead paragraph.

Please call me if you’d like to discuss it further. Thanks for the consideration. laurie jinkins

Leave a comment Comments → 23
  1. BlaineCGarver says:

    Big surprise….a democrat engaged in illegal electioneering…

  2. Laurie will be getting my vote

  3. jacknojack says:

    Laurie, maybe a good person but I can’t keep supporting the same Granola bangers from the 70s. By her own admission is endorsed by the PROGESSIVE MAJORITY ( who are they )??? And she is pushing SOCIAL JUSTICE , A nice term for socialism. We need some new thinkers and some Independents to get Involved. I find it strange that democrats say they will fix the issues economy,jobs, spending so on and so on. But haven’t Dem’s been in control of Washington state for 30 years ?? So we should give them a 7th or 10th or even 15th try to get it right.

    Not this time.

  4. They don’t call him “Jake the Snake” for nothing. Ask the people who’ve had to work with him, like at Tacoma Power.

    He’s losing and he’s desparete. But if elected, he will a public pension double-dipper, collecting benefits from both the state and city.

  5. Interesting story and well written. I wonder if the Board, who can investigate violation of the Hatch Act and fine a violator has any published past opinions?

  6. herronisland says:

    How odd – Jinkins and Fey, two old friends, are funning against one another. I’ve even served on two City of Tacoma Commissions chaired by each one of them – way back.

    I’m certainly not going to endorse either friend, and, fortunately, I don’t have to, since I don’t live in their district anymore.

    I can say, however, that I’d be confident that one of them will do great taking over Denny’s seat in the House.

    My best,

    Merry Kogut
    Herron Island, Pierce County

  7. herronisland says:

    I meant to say “either one of them will do great…” Couldn’t see a way to edit.

  8. summit98446 says:

    Laurie Jinkins is a rare talent. I don’t live in her district, so cannot vote for her. I do, however, wish her the best of luck in her run for office.

  9. Gaikokujin says:

    Another crooked politician, geez what a surprise !!

  10. @DrWernerKlopek
    “Laurie Jinkins whom the TNT will try to tar and feather as easily as they did Hecht, Washam, and for a while Pam Roach”
    That’s an intresting group of cohorts you list Jinkins with. I assume she has the same upstanding moral character.

    The part I don’t understand is if she looked into it and found there was no violation then ask them to rule on it. The only reason not to ask would be because you believe that there is good chance she would be found in violation.

    “Hatch Act prohibits federal executive branch employees from engaging in partisan political activities.”

    ” If found to be in violation of the hatch act, a candidate has three options 1) stop campaigning, or 2) make whatever adjustments are necessary to continue running and keep their job, or 3) resign from their job.’

    There is one more option I sure she considered…
    She could have run non-partisan. It is ‘pick a party’ and she could have chosen no party. Oh, but wait it is more important to get elected even if you put the county’s health department at risk for losing funding.

    I think she has handled this poorly and it reflects on her ability to do the job in a transparent way and with fairness.

  11. magnolia11 says:

    Come on Jake, you’re no prize either. You game the system to pad your pocket: “Just one month after his retirement took effect, on Feb. 1, 2003, he was back at work in his old job. One month of retirement to regain and double-dip makes you untrustworthy and an inappropriate choice for more public trust!!
    “Now, in addition to a six-figure state salary and a Tacoma city councilman’s pay, the Democratic House candidate draws an annual pension of $69,000 for his first three decades of combined service to the city and state. Just more than $20,000 of it comes from the state pension plan, the rest from Tacoma’s system.
    Fey, 61, said he left his WSU job with “no guarantee” of being rehired. He said it was appropriate for him to draw the retirement pay he had earned and for the university to hire him back.” -TNT

  12. magnolia11 says:

    3 Words: Republicans, Republicans, Republicans!!

  13. lovethemountains says:

    Both of them are creepy-crawlers in my opinion.

  14. She’s good to go. Fey is blowing smoke up his colon.

  15. I don’t know much about either. I had a weird experience during the primary: A Junkins supporter rang my doorbell & told me Jinkins was “in favor of health care”. When I asked for specifics, he couldn’t give any……….

  16. elmerfudd says:

    “3 Words: Republicans, Republicans, Republicans!!”

    Afraid there aren’t any in this race. It’s rat vs. rat.

  17. bluegirl39 says:

    Laurie Jinkins may be a mass murderer. If she kills a lot of people.

    And she may be in violation of the Hatch Act. If a full review of the facts finds her in violation.

    Until then, it’s irresponsible of the News Tribune to write screaming headlines and articles full of speculation. This isn’t news coverage. We deserve better.

  18. Concernedfather says:

    Hmmm, at the risk of sounding completely ignorant, I have to wonder why the same rules don’t apply to all County Councilmembers? The get Federal Funding from FEMA (flood Mitigation) and the Dept. of Justice (drug court).

    It seems that according to the guidellines, as set forth in this story, all admin. in the County Executives office and the entire County Council would face the same restrictions. Aren’t a couple Councilmembers running for partisan seats?

  19. villager98 says:

    We in the 27th LD often have to choose between two good candidates and the campaigns are usually civilized and respectful. I could voted for Jake Fey without hesitancy because I know enough to know he is qualified and an honorable man. I chose Laurie Jinkins because I’ve known her for twenty years and know that she has abilities and leadership qualities that, I believe, would serve the district better than Jake. It is a shame that those who seem to have a problem with their brains being located at the wrong end of the body can’t do something coherent or keep their offensive comments to themselves.

  20. huffington says:

    So What????? Every elected official is on the dime of the taxpayer, and every elected official running for re-election is taking a partisan position while their employer (Gov’t) collects funds from the general public. I’ve never heard of the Hatch Act, but it seems like a stupid law.

  21. All I can think of is that the tea parties oppose federal ‘crack cocaine’ funds. Imagine if Pierce County had the same attitude. It’s obvious to see what the local health department gets but what does the rest of the country get for footing part of the annual bill?

    But Murray should be lauded for her earmarks, which is basically legal pickpocketing. What does the rest of the country get in exchange for paying her earmarks?

    Birds of a feather flock together. As of November 2, they will all be flocking somewhere else.

  22. jpatrick says:

    @Davidson100 – as I understand it, Laurie couldn’t run as a non-partisan candidate in a partisan race to avoid violating the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act prohibits the participation as a candidate in a partisan race regardless of their political affiliation (or lack thereof). From the US Office of Special Counsel; “The Hatch Act defines partisan as referring to a political party. 5 C.F.R. § 151.101(h). Thus, under the Hatch Act, an election for public office is a partisan election if any candidate is running as a representative of, for instance, the Republican or Democratic Party. An employee covered by the Act may not be a candidate for public office in a partisan election. 5 U.S.C. § 1502(a)(3).”

    It is amazing it took this long to write this story. From the moment Jenkins and Fey were rumored to be in this race people were asking this question about both of them. As it turns out, they both are probably in violation except that Fey is under an exemption because his work is for an educational institution (in this case WSU). If he did the same work for an organization that was not a educational entity he would likely be in violation.

  23. Useful information, many thanks on the author. It really is puzzling to my opinion now, employing general, the usefulness and importance is overwhelming. Very much thanks again and all the best .!

We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0