arrowSection 3.4 - Government Employees

This topic is monitored by Moritz Law Professor Terri L. Enns

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Political Activities By Employees of the State of Ohio

Ohio Revised Code Section 124.57 imposes restrictions on political activities by public employees in the classified service. 1  "Classified service" is the competitive classified civil service of the state, the counties, cities, city health districts, general health districts, city school districts, and civil service townships. 2  The restriction generally prohibits partisan political activity while permitting nonpartisan participation in the political process.

However, two possible exceptions require further information to determine the applicability of this code section to any specific individual. Ohio Constitution Section 3, Article XVIII, provides for home rule powers for some political subdivisions. When a city has a charter, that charter will take priority over the code section regarding political activities by employees of the city or other home rule entity. 3  At least one court has upheld a charter imposing restrictions even on some nonpartisan activities. 4  Additionally, at least one authority has found that a collective bargaining agreement that specifically permits a classified employee to engage in partisan politics may supercede the Code. 5  Thus, in order to determine whether or not a classified employee may participate in partisan politics, it must be determined whether the employer is a home rule entity. Additionally, whether or not the employee is governed by a collective bargaining agreement that permits partisan political activities may also impact the applicability of ORC 124.57's restrictions.

Penalties for engaging in prohibited political activities can include reduced pay, fines, suspensions, or removal from the position. 6

Examples Of Prohibited Activities

According to Ohio Administrative Code 123-1-46-02, the following types of activities may be prohibited:

  • Candidacy for public office in a partisan election
  • Candidacy for public office in a nonpartisan general election if the nomination to candidacy was obtained in a partisan primary or through the circulation of nominating petitions identified with a political party
  • Filing of petitions meeting statutory requirements for partisan candidacy to elective office
  • Circulation of official nominating petitions for any candidate participating in a partisan election
  • Service in an elected or appointed office in any partisan political organization
  • Acceptance of a party-sponsored appointment to any office normally filled by partisan election
  • Campaigning by writing for publications, by distributing political material, or by writing or making speeches on behalf of a candidate for partisan elective office, when such activities are directed toward party success;
  • Solicitation, either directly or indirectly, of any assessment, contribution or subscription, either monetary or in-kind, for any political party or political candidate
  • Solicitation of the sale, or actual sale, of political party tickets
  • Partisan activities at the election polls, such as solicitation of votes for other than nonpartisan candidates and nonpartisan issues
  • Service as, witness or challenger, for any party or partisan committee
  • Participation in political caucuses of a partisan nature
  • Participation in a political action committee which supports partisan activity

Examples Of Permitted Activities

According to Ohio Administrative Code 123-1-46-02, the following types of activities may be permitted:

  • Registration and voting
  • Expression of opinions, either oral or written
  • Voluntary financial contributions to political candidates or organizations
  • Circulation of nonpartisan petitions or petitions stating views on legislation
  • Attendance at political rallies
  • Signing nominating petitions in support of individuals
  • Display of political materials in the employee's home or on the employee's property
  • Wearing political badges or buttons, or the display of political stickers on private vehicles
  • Serving as a precinct election official under section 3501.22 of the Revised Code

Future Enforcement & The First Amendment

Although historically the U.S. Supreme Court sustained both federal and state laws intended to protect the public from partisan misuse of civil service employees, several recent developments in First Amendment law perhaps cast a shadow over the enforcement of such laws, at least in some circumstances. For one thing, the Court has invoked the First Amendment to limit the ability of states to protect judicial elections from some traditional campaign activities. The Court has also invoked the First Amendment to safeguard a certain degree of freedom of speech for public employees. Given these developments, it is possible that in particular circumstances the enforcement of Ohio law to limit some political activities of civil service employees might be found to run afoul of First Amendment rights. One would need to evaluate the likelihood of such a result on a case-by-case basis.

NOTES

1. Ohio Revised Code § 124.57 (H.B. 262, 125th Gen. Assem., 2004).

2. Ohio Revised Code § 124.01(C)

3. Hudak v. Cleveland Civil Service Commission , 44 Ohio App.3d 15, 540 N.E.2d 741 (Eighth Dist. Ct. Of App., 1988), appeal dismissed, 37 Ohio St.3d 703, 531 N.E.2d 1316 (May 25, 1988).

4. Id. at 15, 540 N.E.2d at 742.

5. 1991 Ohio Op. Att'y Gen 91-065

6. Ohio Revised Code § 124.34