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Pike’s Lutfy under microscope in Hatch Act investigation

July 13, 2011

Pam Lutfy, a Republican who pulled a surprise act in this past primary election by winning enough Democrat write-in votes to appear on the Democratic line in the general election on November 8, is being investigated by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) about how she achieved that success.

OSC says that she may have violated the Hatch Act, a federal law dating back to 1939 that prohibits federal employees in the executive branch from engaging in partisan politics.
Lutfy isn’t a federal employee, but the company she owns receives federal funding, which has the same force, or so the act seems to say.

Lutfy, who founded the non-profit Sunrise Station Early Learning Center, a preschool that receives federal funds in Pike County, entered the primary race this spring and won a spot through write-ins. She is attempting to become one of the three-member board of Pike County Commissioners and will oppose Democrat Karl Wagner, and Republicans Rich Caridi, the incumbent, and Matt Osterberg. The OSC is also investigating whether Lutfy may have conducted illegal election activity at the school.

It was not clear whether someone in the county blew the whistle on her or if it happened by means of a routine investigation by the OSC. The Hatch Act removes political patronage from government jobs and blocks office holders from using the power of their office for partisan ends.

The essence of the investigation focuses on the fact that her school receives subsidy payments from the federally funded Scranton-Lackawanna Human Development Agency that administers Head Start Block Grants, and the Child Care Development Block Grant that is administered by Pike County.

Part of the investigation will attempt to see if Lutfy may have used the official authority to influence or interfere with the results of the election. Part of the complaint against her was resolved by a letter from Kathryn Lefeber of the OSC Hatch Act Unit in which she stated that the act did not prohibit her candidacy for commissioner.

However, OSC is conducting interviews of employees and volunteers of the school to determine if any coercion of employees was used to pay, lend or contribute anything for political purposes.

Lutfy said that she is confident that she will be cleared from any wrong-doing.