COG Executive’s endorsement of Bell may have violated Hatch Act

Bell Offered County Ads to Voice in Exchange for Endorsement

WINNSBORO – Moses Bell’s request for an election endorsement may have resulted in a violation of the Hatch Act, a federal law that bars the intermingling of political campaigning and government work.

Bell also offered The Voice the county’s ad revenue in exchange for an endorsement in the newspaper.

COG Exec Endorses Bell

Ben Mauldin, executive director of the Midlands Regional Council of Governments, which coordinates a multitude of federally funded projects, confirmed to The Voice that he endorsed Bell for re-election to Fairfield County Council. But Mauldin also doesn’t think the endorsement violates the Hatch Act.

“I don’t think so. He (Bell) is the one who asked for a quote,” Mauldin said. “It was something he asked for. It’s nothing we’ve normally done, just a quick little quote.”

Maudlin said Bell is the only political candidate that he recalls ever requesting an endorsement from himself or the COG.

When contacted by The Voice for comment, Bell responded via text message with personal attacks.

“Evidently you are an idiot. It is not an endorsement but a comment concerning my leadership strengths. Are you afraid people may know of my strengths and capabilities?” Bell‘s text read.

As County Council chairman, Bell sits on the Central Midlands COG board of directors as well as the Executive Committee which hires and oversees the executive director. The COG facilitates the flow of millions of federal taxpayer dollars to various road, employment and other projects in the Central Midlands, which includes Fairfield County, according to agency records.

Jay Bender, a media law attorney with the S.C. Press Association, of which The Voice is a member, said the agencies accepting federal money potentially fall under the Hatch Act.

“The question of whether or not the Hatch Act applies depends on whether or not the Council of Governments receives any federal funding.” Bender said. “If the COG has federal funding, then I think the Hatch Act might apply.”

The endorsement in question came in a print ad from Bell for his District 1 re-election effort. Bell’s ad includes a quote attributed to Mauldin, which says “Bell’s leadership, expertise and time volunteered is very much appreciated” by the COG.

Enacted in 1939, the Hatch Act limits political activities of federal employees as well as local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the act.

The law’s purposes are “to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation,” the OSC states on its website.

Local and state agencies that “frequently receive financial assistance from the federal government” fall under the Hatch Act.

A majority of the Central Midlands COG’s Aging Services division is federally funded, according to the COG’s website.

The COG has also facilitated the flow of millions of federal highway dollars to various road projects in the Midlands, agency records show.

As an elected official, Bell likely wouldn’t face any sanctions over the advertisement. Hatch Act sanctions are typically aimed at employees of federal agencies or agencies that receive federal funding.

Penalties can range from a warning to the agency losing some of its federal funding, according to the OSC website.

In extreme cases, the OSC could recommend removing a violator from federal service, according to the OSC website.

Bell Offers The Voice a Deal

Bell also asked The Voice’s publisher for an endorsement on Monday in exchange for placing all the county’s ads with The Voice.

The newspaper, which had run the county’s ads for several years, was one of a number of heads to roll under Fairfield County’s new council majority that was seated in January, 2021 – Councilmen Moses Bell, Tim Roseborough, Mikel Trapp and Councilwoman Shirley Greene.

In March, 2021, the following announcement was posted on the county’s Facebook page:

“Please be aware, effective immediately, Fairfield County will no longer use The Voice of Fairfield County for ads and legal notices…”

A week earlier, county officials notified The Voice’s staff that (former) Fairfield County Administrator Jason Taylor had been instructed by Council Chair Moses Bell to immediately switch the county’s advertising from The Voice to The Country Chronicle, which is published out of Camden.

The final move to cut all advertising to The Voice came after months of verbal and emailed instructions from Bell pressuring Taylor to switch to the newspaper of Bell’s choice.

In an email dated Jan. 12, 2021, Bell took a new tack, trying to convince Taylor that, “The Voice newspaper has not been a friend to our communities.”

During council meetings, Bell publicly criticized The Voice and urged citizens to support other newspapers.

“Mr. Bell does not like hearing the truth,” Councilman Douglas Pauley said during a subsequent council meeting. “He has found out that he cannot bend The Voice to his will and make them write what he wants. He would just rather shut them down.”

Publisher Barbara Ball contributed to this story.

Comments

  1. Mike Bell says

    Moses Bell is stupid!!!! Vote him out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. jeff schaffer says

    BELL is done. He will lose this election; if he doesn’t then this county is done.
    People look at who you have here as a council member. Think for one minute what he has done.!!!
    and if the answers don’t pop, immediately your head is empty.

  3. Joseph Novaro - The forgotten 58 says

    Again another example of Mr. Bell’s arrogance and stupidity. He doesn’t give a damn about Fairfield county, only his personal gains and power. He’s got to go !

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