The Office of Special Counsel filed a complaint for disciplinary action last week against Defense Department official Andre Hollis, after investigators concluded that he became a candidate for Congress, a violation of the Hatch Act.
The complaint charges Hollis, currently deputy assistant secretary of Defense for counternarcotics, with three violations of the act, the federal law that bans most federal employees from seeking nomination or election to a partisan political office and engaging in other political activity.
Under terms of the Hatch Act, Hollis could lose his job or be suspended. Hollis’ attorney accuses the government of going too far.
According to a statement released by the Office of Special Counsel last week, Hollis violated the Hatch Act “by becoming a candidate for nomination and election to the U.S. House of Representatives as the Representative from the 8th district in Virginia.”
While Hollis never publicly declared himself a candidate in the suburban Washington district, the complaint alleges that Hollis acted in concert with the Friends of the 8th District Committee, a group set up to raise funds for Hollis and encourage his run for the GOP nomination.
The complaint also alleges that Hollis solicited political contributions in support of his campaign and the Friends of the 8th, which the Special Counsel’s office describes as a “partisan political group.”
The committee has maintained that it is an “independent” organization seeking to elect Hollis to the seat now held by embattled Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.).
“Mr. Hollis sent an e-mail message to a group of recipients asking them to contact Friends of the 8th about hosting a fundraiser and explaining that the goal was to raise enough money to cause the National Republican Party to take notice and state providing support to his campaign and the Friends of the 8th,” the complaint alleges.
The OSC complaint also charges Hollis with using his official title while engaging in political activity.
The complaint contends that Hollis approved a letter written by a member of the 8th district group that used his title and described his position at the Defense Department.
The letter was distributed by the group as an invitation to a meeting about the “upcoming race to elect a qualified Republican candidate for the Virginia 8th district.”
In addition, the OSC asserts that Hollis lied about his association with the Friends of the 8th to its investigators.
“In testimony to OSC investigators, Mr. Hollis falsely claimed that he had no association with Friends of the 8th, while his own e-mail messages proved otherwise,” the OSC release states.
The complaint was filed with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board on Sept. 24. The presumptive penalty for violating the act is removal from federal employment, although the MSPB can vote unanimously to mitigate the penalty to no less than a 30-day suspension without pay.
Employees have the right to appeal the MSPB’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
David Tripp, an attorney representing Hollis, said Monday that the OSC’s complaint is “overreaching.”
“There are no cases around where the OSC has tried to use the Hatch Act against someone for thinking about running for office,” Tripp said. “What they’re trying to stretch it to is somebody who is thinking about running for office.”
Tripp said that while the OSC issued two advisory opinions in 1969 which said, in effect, that employees covered by the act are not allowed to “test the waters” for political office, there is no statute or law forbidding candidates from the types of activities in which Hollis engaged.
“There’s no case law out there that would support this kind of extension,” he said.
Hollis now has 35 days to answer the OSC complaint, after which time an administrative hearing will be held. Tripp estimated it could take months before a decision is rendered by the MSPB.
A statement released by the Friends of the 8th district yesterday charges that the Special Counsel’s complaint is based only on “selected documents provided by the Friends of the 8th District Committee’s former executive director” Edward Gerety. Gerety sent an e-mail to supporters on Sept. 8 announcing that he had resigned his position with the committee.
“I just think this whole thing stinks,” said David Hagerty, the attorney representing the Friends of the 8th District Committee.
Hagerty described Gerety as a “disgruntled employee” and said the committee is cooperating with the OSC investigation and is handing over other records.
“We have some issues with Mr. Gerety which we will pursue in due course,” Hagerty said.
Hagerty also said that Hollis was in the process of obtaining advice on how to comply with the Hatch Act and that in the end it will be proved that Hollis did not intentionally violate the law.
Hollis’ name first surfaced as a potential Republican candidate in Virginia’s 8th district in March, on the heels of controversial comments Moran made regarding Jewish influence on the war in Iraq.
At the time, Hollis had talked to the White House and 8th district Republicans about the race and, according to friends, he was trying to schedule a sit-down with aides at the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Prior to working at the Pentagon, Hollis worked as senior counsel to the House Government Reform Committee and as counsel to the House Commerce Committee.
“Many friends and supporters are encouraging me to run for the 8th district,” Hollis said in a statement given to Roll Call and published March 31. “In recent days, I have had discussions with the White House and local and state party officials in Virginia. Clearly, the 8th district desperately needs effective leadership we can be proud of.”