Election 1944: The Hatch Law this time (10-22-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (October 22, 1944)


Taylor: The Hatch Law this time

By Robert Taylor, Pittsburgh Press staff writer

It has almost passed public notice, but this year’s presidential election is the first to be held since the Federal Clean Politics Law, more familiarly known as the Hatch Act, went into full effect.

There was a Hatch Act in 1940, too, but it didn’t take full effect until the middle of the campaign, when much of the Democratic National Committee’s campaign fund had been raised, so it wasn’t as important a factor that year as it is now.

The law has been amended in a number of respects since then. Also, its enforcement has been standardized to the point where the U.S. Civil Service Commission is ready and willing to crack down on any federal employee who steps out of bounds to do some politicking. In Pennsylvania, the Commission now has cases pending against both Democratic and Republican state officials, charging macing of payrolls supported partly with federal funds.

What this means in terms of campaign work is that the major sources of Democratic campaign funds are closed and the bulk of the Democratic workers – those rewarded with jobs for their services in past campaigns – have been “graduated” out of politics.

Democrats built on payrolls

This accounts for the relative weakness of the Democratic organization, both here and elsewhere, in contrast with the Republican organization which gets its political strength from local and State payrolls not subject to the Hatch Act, and contributions from individuals who can give up to the limit of $5,000 for any one committee or campaign.

From 1932 on, the Democrats built their state organization on payrolls, chiefly federal, and their chief sources of campaign funds were the same payrolls, until the Hatch Act stopped that form of money-raising.

The WPA and other Depression-era federal agencies provided a lure and a reward for political workers, funds and votes for the organization, and the power of that form of political activity was great enough to provide safe majorities in presidential years and challenge the majority Republicans in state elections.

Today, if an aspiring precinct worker or ward heeler turns in consistently good performances for the party and is finally rewarded with a federal job, he is immediately removed from politics and assured of freedom from political pressure as long as he holds it.

Party workers must be replaced

That makes it necessary to replace the worker in the next campaign – not an easy task in a wartime manpower shortage. In Philadelphia, where Democrats have little local patronage, this system of rewarding and replacing faithful party workers is spoken of as comparable with that of the U.S. Air Forces: 25 trips over the enemy lines and a furlough. In at least one county, a federal official had to resign so his party could have a campaign chairman.

The CIO Political Action Committee, with its un-Hatched but untrained political workers, is filling in the gaps this year for the Democratic organization, but the effects of the Hatch Act are noticeable in Pennsylvania where local payrolls are in the hands of Republicans.

Not only is the Hatch Act hampering the Democratic organization this year, but it is being demonstrated, now, that it will be a curb on any party organization in the future which uses the federal payroll to reward its faithful workers.