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Just in case you were wondering, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and police Chief Cathy Lanier are buds. That would be the takeaway from the ad, shown above, that appeared in Wednesday’s Current newspapers.
But does that make also Lanier a scofflaw?
Federal law prohibits District and federal employees from participating in various political activities. According to the Web site of the federal Office of Special Counsel, which investigates violations of the Hatch Act, it’s a violation to “engage in political activity while…in a government office” or “wearing an official uniform.” Evans, as an elected official, is exempt; Lanier is not.
The picture appears to have been taken inside Evans’ office in the John A. Wilson Building, the seat of District government, and Lanier is wearing her uniform. The picture also appears on Evans’ campaign Web site, along with other pictures of Lanier and City Administrator Dan Tangherlini.
According to Evans campaign spokesperson Keith Carbone, Lanier “did not sign off on the picture and was not aware that we were using it.” Traci Hughes, a police spokesperson, says, “We will let the [Evans campaign’s] acknowledgment that the Chief was not consulted stand on its own.”
Lanier isn’t mentioned by name in the ad; the only thing remotely public-safety related is a mention that Evans helped bring ShotSpotter to Shaw. “The obvious point of using that [picture] is showing that Jack works closely with the chief of police,” he says. “They maintain a pretty constant stream of communication about things. It’s important to Jack to get frequent updates.”
The picture certainly belongs to the “grip-and-grin” genre common to campaign materials in this town. They usually show up on direct mailings in a collage of various around-town photos. (Check out this blog post from Evans challenger Cary Silverman, for instance.) This one’s a little different: It’s in a paid ad in a community newspaper, it’s huge, it’s the police chief, and there’s no other photos on it.
LL has inquired with the Office of Special Counsel as to whether (a) it is a violation to have your image used unwittingly for political purposes and (b) whether the Evans campaign is breaking the law by doing so. The office is currently reviewing the matter.
Kristopher Baumann, head of the union representing Metropolitan Police officers, isn’t happy seeing Lanier apparently shilling for a political candidate.
Baumann says his group was the subject of a Hatch Act investigation in 2006, after candidates’ campaign materials showed D.C. cops in uniform. Though the cops had never consented to having the pictures taken or their use in campaign ads, the union had to hire a lawyer to fight off the charges, which were eventually dropped.
Baumann says he takes the law very seriously. “What infuriates my guys and me, we bend over backward,” he says. “We follow these rules hardcore….Here you have the executive and legislative branch of government just absolutely disobeying the rules.”
Neither Evans nor Silverman, Baumann points out, asked for the police union’s endorsement.