Before grappling with the fiscal cliff, Congress passed a rare kind of law: one that, on balance, tends to loosen ethical restrictions.  The Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012 amends a 1939 law – named after Carl, not Orrin – which prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activities.  The Modernization Act does four things:

First, it removes restrictions that prohibit state and local employees from running for office if they are working on projects that receive federal funding.  Those employees now can run for office unless their salary comes entirely from federal funds.

Second, it removes the federal restrictions that prohibit District of Columbia employees from running for office and engaging in other political activities.

Third, it authorizes the Office of Personnel Management to issue regulations permitting federal workers to participate in political campaigns in D.C.  Previously, federal workers could participate in campaigns in the D.C. suburbs, but not D.C. itself.

Fourth, it changes the penalties imposed on federal employees who violate the law.  Instead of a near-automatic job loss, the new law subjects violators to penalties ranging from a simple reprimand up through removal and debarment.