Tricia Hanson and Tom Binger – candidates for Racine County District Attorney – traded barbs last week over Hanson’s use on her campaign website and social media of photos of her with uniformed members of county law enforcement.
Hanson is currently the Racine County Deputy District Attorney and Binger is an Assistant District Attorney in Kenosha County.
Hatch Act Violations
Why this is such a big deal is because of the Hatch Act of 1939, which strictly prohibits employees of public agencies that receive federal funding like Homeland Security grants from participating in partisan campaign activities while in uniform and/or being named using the title of their position. The purpose of the Hatch Act is to keep certain public employees from being used for political influence.
Penalties for violating the Hatch Act can include individuals getting fired and/or the agency losing funding of up to two years salary for each violation.
Back in July, local activist Kelly Gallaher-Dimler said she got word that Hanson marched in the 4th of July parade in a campaign t-shirt and with uniformed members of the Racine Police Department and that photos of her with said officers were posted on Hanson’s campaign website and social media platforms as well.
Additionally, Hanson announced her campaign surrounded by uniformed law enforcement in a county building and posted those photos as well.
City Attorney: Remove All Photos
Dimler took her concerns to law enforcement and to city Attorney Scott Letteney who agreed that Hanson was violating the Hatch Act. He advised her to remove all photos in question of her with uniformed officers, and members of the Mount Pleasant Police Department requested the same.
Last week, Dimler noticed that a few photos were still on Hanson’s Instagram page, so she filed 11 complaints – one for each uniformed officer in the photos – with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, Hatch Act Unit.
“Two years salary for eleven officers spread out over three or four departments is a lot of money,” Dimler acknowledged. “I hope it doesn’t come to that, but candidates should play by the rules, and law enforcement should have checked to be sure the photos were down.”
Hanson told The Journal Times that she was aware of the Hatch Act but thought it only applied to federal employees and she never meant to put funding for Racine County agencies in jeopardy.
“I thought it only applied to federal agencies. I didn’t realize it applied to agencies that take federal money,” she told the newspaper. “I certainly don’t want anyone to lose federal funding. That’s crucial to law enforcement.”
Hanson and Binger Trade Barbs
Binger wasn’t buying it, though. In a press release sent to media Friday, he accused Hanson of flaunting the Hatch Act and putting local law enforcement at risk.
“The people of Racine County deserve a district attorney who will not break the law,” the release reads. “Tricia Hanson’s attempt to exploit police officers for her own political benefit has violated Federal law and put law enforcement jobs at risk.”
Hanson fired back on her Facebook page by calling Binger desperate and being critical of local law enforcement.
“This is a desperate attempt by a candidate that has scant community support to get recognized. I can take his criticism of me,” her post reads. “What I take issue with is how willing he is to be critical of our hardworking law enforcement community in an effort to get attention. If he knew our law enforcement community, he would not be utilizing the negative campaign tactics he is now employing.”
The Hatch Act unit chief last Thursday via email confirmed receipt of Dimler’s complaints and said a case will be opened for each one. The message did not indicate when Dimler should expect any response.
Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. Residents will be voting for a number of positions that day, including president, senator, congress, and for Racine County DA.