For the past few weeks, allegations of a possible violation of the Hatch Act have been swirling around Sully District School Board candidate Al White. Although he denies any wrongdoing, he received a letter Tuesday from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel advising him that he's under investigation for allegedly violating this act.
"We are looking into it," acknowledged Jane McFarland with that office. "We heard from several different sources [that there may have been a violation]."
White oversees Department of Defense (DOD) criminal investigations and is a member of the federal government's elite Senior Executive Service. And the Hatch Act specifically prohibits executive-branch employees from engaging in partisan political activities.
He's running for a seat on an ostensibly nonpartisan board whose votes and actions, in reality, nearly always break down along party lines — with Democrats and Republicans in staunch opposition to each other. Hence, it functions as a partisan body.
Furthermore, White is the officially endorsed candidate of both the Sully and Fairfax County Republican committees and has prominently advertised this fact in his campaign signs, literature and Web site. Now, in response to the letter, he's replacing the words "Republican-endorsed" with the words "teacher-endorsed" since he's just received the official endorsement of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.
McFarland said a political-party endorsement, itself, doesn't constitute a violation: "It's what happens afterward that could make it partisan — how the candidate chooses to use this endorsement." She said White was sent a "cure letter," advising him to either resign his job or withdraw from the race to resolve this situation.
In general, if her office (OSC) can't reach agreement with a candidate, it files a petition for disciplinary action with the Merit Systems Protection Board — before which her office would litigate. But, she added, "It takes about a year before you get an answer back."
Fairfax Republican Committee chair Joe Underwood said that, prior to entering the race, White "received a green light from his agency not only to run, but to seek outside employment. He checked with DOD officials — who checked with the OSC."
White, too, said he obtained the necessary approvals. "I did everything above and beyond reproach," he said. "I'm doing this for the kids of this county, and I'm not going to let this phase me in the least."
Both he and Underwood believe the whole controversy was politically motivated and fueled by the Democrats. "To me, it means the Democrats are desperate," said Underwood, calling the attempt to oust White from the race "specious at best and frivolous at worst. This is definitely political dirty tricks."
Describing White as a decent man, Underwood said, "Here's a guy who's been in federal law enforcement for 27 years. For anyone to intimate he's a scofflaw doesn't even dignify a response."
Democratic contender Kathy Smith said she was "totally surprised" by what's happened and called it a shame. She said she had no prior knowledge of the attack on White, nor would she or her supporters ever condone it.
"I want to win this race on what I know," she said. "I want people to vote for me because I'm the best candidate for the job. I need to stay focused on the campaign and getting the message out."
Meanwhile, Underwood said the OSC action has re-energized White's campaign and he welcomes any filing for disciplinary action. Said Underwood, an attorney: "If this case goes forward, I look forward to meeting them in court."