DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - The Dallas office of the Internal Revenue Service has come under federal scrutiny, but not because of anything to do with taxpayers' money. Instead, it's over allegations of what employees were wearing or displaying in an office of the Federal Building.
Early in his 2012 re-election bid there was concern that President Obama's campaign needed all the help it could get; now a federal probe has concluded some help from inside a Dallas IRS office might not have been legal.
According to this Office of Special Counsel document, employees at the Dallas IRS Taxpayer Assistance Office were seen wearing pro-Obama campaign paraphernalia: stickers, buttons, and T-shirts, even putting campaign screen-savers on work computers.
"No, it's news to me and frankly it's very disconcerting," the Dallas County Republican Party Chair says. Wade Emert believes federal workers need to keep their politics at home.
"The largest concern is whether or not these employees are using their office to enforce their own personal political ideology. That's what we saw happen in D.C. with the IRS targeting certain groups. To the extent these employees are supporters of President Obama, that's fine, but what they do at work is separate from their personal political life. And it should be separate, and we get into trouble when it's not."
Emert added, "So, if you're a President Obama supporter, that's great, you just can't bring it into the federal office with you, especially during election time."
And it's an apparent violation of the federal Hatch Act, according to Pete Schulte, a Dallas lawyer and former policeman.
"The fundamental bottom line for the Hatch Act is to limit the Executive Branch---also known as the President---from having an army of federal employees being active in political campaigning, to try to re-elect the President and some of their sponsored candidates. So, it's to prevent federal employees from actively engaging in political activities while they're on the clock" Schulte told CBS 11 News.
Schulte -- a former Democratic party office-seeker -- says there are no criminal penalties, but "There are civil penalties, and the most severe is the employee losing their job."
And that's part of the postscript here: the Special Counsel couldn't tell if the items were displayed during the campaign or after. "The law distinguishes political activity that happens after an election but prior to the start of another election season," Schulte said. So OSC sent employees a stern warning that said in part "...they cannot wear any items advocating for or against a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate in the workplace."
The IRS isn't commenting on specific employee situations. But it says employees are regularly reminded to follow federal guidelines -- including the Hatch Act.
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