When Peggy Kerry addressed a gathering of feminists on behalf of the Democratic presidential nominee at the party's convention in Boston, she upset a few people -- namely a Catholic anti-abortion group that said Kerry, a federal employee, was out of line in making such a prominent campaign appearance on behalf of her brother, Sen. John F. Kerry, Mass.
But did she really do anything wrong?
The State Department says no, and officials there defended the career civil servant's appearance on First Amendment grounds. "As a career employee, she may take an active part" in her brother's campaign, an agency spokesman told The Washington Post after the incident.
The lines between career and campaign can get blurry. This is never more true than in the middle of an election season.
Political activities by government workers are regulated by law, but not banned. The Hatch Act, passed in 1939 and amended several times, spells out the rules. Employees at some federal agencies, such as the CIA, FBI and the Federal Elections Commission, are under much more stringent guidelines than other rank-and-file workers. For details, visit the U.S. Office of Special Counsel's Web site on the Hatch Act (www.osc.gov/ha--fed.htm).
Private-sector employees aren't restricted by such laws -- or protected by them. Suffice it to say that if the boss doesn't like your politics and you insist on bringing them to work anyway, you can be fired.
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