Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1961 No. 22 - April 14, 1961
AGO Opinion Header Image
John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

CIVIL SERVICE LAW ‑- COVERAGE OF STATE EMPLOYEES WHO ARE OFFICERS OF POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS

State employees not covered by the Federal "Hatch Act" may be officers of organizations such as the Young Democrats, Young Republicans, etc., without violating the provisions of the state civil service law; but may not participate in the management of a partisan campaign.

                                                               - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                    April 14, 1961

 Honorable Ann O'Donnell
State Representative, 37th District
1815 E. Harrison
Seattle, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 22

 Dear Miss O'Donnell:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on the following question:

            May a state employee be an officer of an organization such as the Young Democrats, Young Republicans, Young Men's Democratic Club, and the Young Men's Republican Club without violating the provisions of the State Civil Service Law?

            We answer your question in the affirmative subject to the qualifications noted below.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Initiative 207 establishes a comprehensive civil service law for state employees.  Section 25 of the Initiative reads as follows:

            "(1) Solicitation for or payment to any partisan, political organization or for any partisan, political purpose of any compulsory assessment or involuntary contribution is prohibited.  No person shall solicit on state property any contribution to be used for partisan, political purposes.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "(2) Employees shall have the right to vote and to express their opinions on all political subjects and candidates, but shall not hold any political party office or participate in the management of a partisan, political campaign.  Nothing in this section shall prohibit a classified employee from participating fully in campaigns relating to constitutional amendments, referendums, initiatives, and issues of a similar character, and for non-partisan offices.

            "(3) Nothing in this section shall prohibit appointment, nomination or election to part-time public office in a political subdivision of the state when the holding of such office is not incompatible with, nor substantially interferes with, the discharge of official duties in state employment.

            "(4) For persons employed in State Agencies the operation of which is financed in total or in part by Federal grant-in-aid funds political activity will be regulated by the rules and regulations of the United States Civil Service Commission."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            As you will note, the political activity of employees of state agencies receiving federal funds is governed by federal regulations.  These federal regulations allow employees to join political clubs such as you have mentioned but prohibit such employees from participating in the administration of affairs of the organizations such as serving as an officer or on a committee thereof.  See Federal Personnel Manual, Chapters 2-7, and United States Civil Service Commission Pamphlet 20, page 11 (1951).

            The provisions of Initiative 207 applicable to other state employees, however, are not so restrictive.  State employees may not beofficers of political parties nor may they participate in themanagement of apartisan political campaign.

            In AGO 59-60 No. 171 [[to Sam Smith, State Representative on December 30, 1960]]we held that a state employee covered by Initiative 207 could not be a precinct committeeman or a district chairman without violating the provisions of the Initiative because such offices were offices of a political party within the meaning of the prohibition set forth above.

            In our opinion it is necessary in order to answer your question to determine whether clubs such as you mention in your request are political parties, or whether the officers of such clubs areofficers of a political party or must necessarily participate in themanagement of partisan campaigns.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            (1) Are these organizations political parties?

            We are informed, and we presume our information is correct, that these organizations are not subject to control or regulation by the official party organization.  The clubs do not nominate candidates for political office nor do persons campaign for such offices as candidates of such organization.  Each club has its own constitution and may, within its own organizational structure, change its purposes, policies, and name without the consent or permission of any other group.  While the members of such clubs may share political views in common, their purpose is other than to function as a political party as that term is usually and normally used.

            In our opinion the restriction placed upon state employees must be limited to political parties in the ordinary, usual and common meaning of that term.  Cochran v. Nelson, 26 Wn. (2d) 82, 173 P. (2d) 769 (1946).  It could hardly be contended that these clubs are each separate political parties.  SeeCooper v. Cartwright, 200 Okla. 456, 195 P. (2d) 290 (1948); Swindall v. State Election Board, 168 Okla. 97, 32 P. (2d) 671 (1934);Chambers v. I. Ben Greenmon Ass'n., 58 N.Y.S. (2d) 637 (1945); andHarrell v. Sullivan, 220 Ind. 108, 40 N.E. (2d) 115 (1942).

            (2) Are officers of such organizations officers of a political party?

            We have been informed, and we again presume our information is correct, that the officers of organizations such as you mention are not ex officio officers of the political party organization; that the election and qualifications of officers are governed by the charters or constitutions of the clubs and not by the official party organization; that the officers of the clubs are not, by reason of their office, delegated authority by the official organization to perform the functions of the party organization.  With these facts in mind, it is our opinion that the officers of the organizations such as you mention are not officers of a political party within the meaning of the prohibition set forth above.

            (3) Must the officers of such organizations participate in the management of partisan political campaigns?

            In our opinion the answer to this question is within the sole determination of the particular club.  Their officers may or may not be required to participate in the management of such campaigns as each club may determine.

            In answering this question we must point out that we are not here concerned with the fact that many of the officers of such clubs are often called upon to assist in the management of partisan campaigns.  In our opinion it is clear that a state employee may not so  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] participate.  All we here note is that an officer of an organization such as you mention is not required because of his office to participate in management prohibited by the Civil Service Law unless the club should so determine.  The fact that an organization may choose to elect a person so restricted is a matter for the organization to decide.

            This opinion should not be read, however, as a means of circumventing the Civil Service Law.  Should a political party delegate to an organization such as you mention, the duties normally and usually performed by the party, or should the official party organization attempt to integrate the club into the party organizational structure, the premises on which this opinion is based would be substantially changed and the conclusions hereinabove stated would not be supportable.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

R. TED BOTTIGER
Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo