A former chief White House ethics lawyer has filed a Hatch Act complaint against a D.C.-based health care exchange, alleging that its online communications with liberal activist group Organizing for Action (OFA) violated rules against federal political activity.
Richard Painter, who served as the chief ethics counsel under President George W. Bush, requested a federal investigation into DC Health Link in a Nov. 13 letter to the Office of Special Counsel’s Carolyn Lerner.
Painter says DC Health Link appears to be subject to the Hatch Act, which limits political activity by federal employees, because the health exchange was created by the D.C. government and is acting on its behalf. He noted that the exchange may have violated the Hatch Act after it promoted OFA’s pro-Obamacare activism on Twitter.
Painter said DC Health Link may have also violated the Hatch Act by "following" OFA’s D.C. twitter account and retweeting one of its messages on Nov. 8.
The Office of Special Counsel determined that federal agencies cannot "friend," "like," or "follow" political parties, partisan political campaigns or partisan political groups on social media platforms. Agencies are also restricted to posting content that is related to official business and politically neutral.
"The communications that I believe violated the Hatch Act were made on Twitter and all relate to Organizing for Action ("OFA"), formerly known as Organizing for America, an organization the [Office of Special Counsel] has specifically identified as a ‘partisan political group,’" wrote Painter.
On Nov. 5, DC Health Link’s Twitter handle wrote, "Our friends at @OFA_DC are looking to hear your experience with #Obamacare. Share your feedback with them at [link]." The link directed users to my.barackobama.com, the official OFA website.
OFA describes itself as a nonpartisan organization. It previously operated as an arm of the Obama campaign under the name Organizing for America, which was deemed a partisan political group by the Office of Special Counsel.
President Obama will join an OFA call Monday night to discuss Obamacare, which has been plagued with problems during its rollout