VA doctor accused of violating Hatch Act as 2014 TN candidate for U.S. Senate

A Veterans Affairs doctor is accused of violating the federal Hatch Act during a failed 2014 campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, including promoting his campaign during visits with at least one patient, reports The Tennessean.

Choudhury Salekin violated the act 15 times, according to a release from the Office of Special Counsel (see below)…. It could not immediately be confirmed if Salekin was still working at the Murfreesboro VA facility. A message left for Salekin seeking comment was not immediately returned Wednesday evening.

Note: Salekin, one of eight independent candidates on the ballot, received 787 votes statewide in the Nov. 4, 2014 general election – won by Alexander with 850,087 votes with Democrat Gordon Ball runnerup with 437,848 votes, according to official returns posted on the Division of Election website.

Press release from U.S. Office of Special Counsel

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has filed a complaint for disciplinary action with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) against a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctor, charging him with 15 counts of violating the Hatch Act.

While an employee of the VA’s Tennessee Valley Healthcare System (in Murfreesboro), the doctor ran as an independent candidate in the 2014 partisan election for the office of U.S. senator from Tennessee. According to OSC, the doctor promoted his candidacy by distributing business cards featuring the VA’s official seal and touting his campaign video, which was available on his campaign website and on YouTube.

The video included a testimonial from a patient he had treated at the VA. OSC also alleges that the doctor encouraged several VA colleagues and at least one patient – during a medical consultation – to watch his campaign video. He also solicited campaign contributions both online and in person and invited at least one patient, also during a medical consultation, to a campaign event.

The Hatch Act generally prohibits federal employees from being candidates in partisan elections – even as independent candidates – and from knowingly soliciting, accepting, or receiving political contributions from any person, at any time. The Hatch Act also prohibits employees from using their official influence as government employees to affect the result of an election. Finally, federal employees may not engage in any political activity while on duty or in the federal workplace.

According to OSC’s November 17, 2017, complaint, the VA doctor had received guidance from the VA’s acting general counsel outlining each of the Hatch Act’s restrictions.

OSC’s complaint asks the MSPB to find that the doctor engaged in prohibited political activity as charged and to order appropriate disciplinary action. Penalties for Hatch Act violations range from reprimand or suspension to removal and debarment from federal employment.

“Federal employees should remember their restrictions under the Hatch Act,” Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner said. “Those who have questions should contact the Office of Special Counsel or their relevant agency officials for advice.”

…The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Our basic authorities come from four federal statutes: the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. OSC’s primary mission is to safeguard the merit system by protecting federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially whistleblower retaliation, and to serve as a safe channel for allegations of wrongdoing. For more information, please visit our website at www.osc.gov.

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