IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
“It’s not too much to ask that an agent working in the FBI’s Political Corruption Unit follow the law while launching his congressional campaign. For a candidate relying almost exclusively on his last name and his time at the FBI to sweep him into office, this allegation casts serious doubt on his qualifications. Pennsylvania voters deserve answers,” said Jermaine House of the DCCC.
Politico – Morning Score
By Scott Bland
March 4, 2016
Last year, long after GOP Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick announced he would retire, the Philadelphia-area representative began calling Republicans in his district to pitch them on a perfect successor: his brother.
But Brian Fitzpatrick, a FBI agent and Mike’s younger sibling, was still working as a federal law enforcement official when the calls began, according to two sources with knowledge of Mike Fitzpatrick’s efforts, one of whom received a call personally. That could prove a problem: The below-the-radar persuasion campaign may have violated a law that prohibits federal employees, or surrogates acting on their behalf, from running for partisan office or making preparations to do so.
Only a couple weeks after his campaign launch, Brian Fitzpatrick drove another leading GOP contender out of the race. He secured the endorsement of the local Republican Party soon after, as the field cleared. But a campaign law expert says his brother’s legwork beforehand may have run afoul of the Hatch Act — specifically the part which forbids federal employees from even “preliminary activities regarding candidacy,” including preparation by proxies.
Fitzpatrick’s district is set to be one of the most hotly contested House battlegrounds in the country in 2016. It has split nearly evenly between Democratic and Republican voters in recent presidential elections, though Mike Fitzpatrick’s popularity kept it solidly in the House GOP’s column for several terms.
Neither Mike Fitzpatrick’s congressional office nor Brian Fitzpatrick’s campaign responded to repeated requests for comment.
“Mike had been making calls for months” before Brian Fitzpatrick’s campaign launch, one Bucks County Republican said. He was granted anonymity to describe private conversations. “For months, maybe longer than that. … ‘Hey, I’m your congressman, look at the job I’ve done, I want you to support my brother.’”
Another Republican in the district remembered the calls picking up around Thanksgiving 2015. “Mike was saying to people, my brother is looking at it. Wouldn’t Brian earn some of your consideration and support even though he can’t voice it?” he said.
Brian Fitzpatrick told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he submitted his resignation to the FBI a week prior to his campaign launch in January. Fitzpatrick decided last summer that he wanted to run for Congress, the paper wrote, but “responsibilities at the FBI delayed the announcement.”
That means Brian Fitzpatrick was still covered by the Hatch Act when his brother was making the calls. In a 2009 advisory opinion, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel explained that the Hatch Act not only bars federal employees from “being candidates in a partisan election” but also “prohibit[s] preliminary activities regarding candidacy,” including “meeting with individuals to plan the logistics and strategy of a campaign … or giving consent to or acquiescing in such activities by others on the employee’s behalf.”
In that light, Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick’s pre-campaign activities could have been a Hatch Act violation, according to Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission now working for the Campaign Legal Center. The issue turns on whether Brian Fitzpatrick authorized or even knew about his brother’s activities.
“The Hatch Act is a prohibition not only on formal candidacy, but on pre-campaign activities,” Noble said. “Even if [Mike Fitzpatrick] was doing it of his own accord, it at least reflects the fact that the brother who is running now was thinking about running and was taking preliminary steps. … Any steps would be in violation of the Hatch Act, and it’s hard to imagine a situation where your brother would be soliciting support if you hadn’t done something to prompt that.”
“It would be an insult to Pennsylvania voters for Brian Fitzpatrick — who worked in the FBI’s Political Corruption Unit — to ask us to believe his brother was drumming up support for this Congressional campaign without his knowledge or consent,” Pennsylvania Democratic Party spokesman Preston Maddock said in a statement.
Mike Fitzpatrick told a local columnist in December that his brother was considering running. But other Republicans in the district said they’d heard nothing from the congressman about it, nor had they heard anything about him arranging support for his brother.
“I really don’t think there was any backroom deal, no shenanigans,” said Dan Rattigan, a town supervisor in the district. He had supported GOP state Rep. Scott Petri for the seat before Petri dropped out weeks after Brian Fitzpatrick jumped in. “… When Brian resigned, he then made a concerted effort and he followed all the rules and garnered more [endorsement] votes.”
Still, some other Republicans have hard feelings about Fitzpatrick entering the race relatively late. His resume at the FBI is sterling, but it also took him far from the district and its local politics until this year.
“Had any other person in the world walked into Bucks County GOP headquarters three weeks before their endorsement meetings and said, ‘Hey, I want your support and my name is Smith,’ it never would have happened,” said Andy Warren, a former Bucks County official who is also running for the GOP nomination.