Non-Compete Agreements on the Campaign Trail

Non-compete agreements can creep up in virtually any industry, from technology to food service. In some cases, these agreements are a fair and adequate tool that balances a former employer’s rights to protect confidential proprietary information with a former employee’s right to seek new employment and enter into contractual agreements with subsequent employers.

With campaign season in full swing, it stands to reason that candidates may wish to impose similar restrictions on their staff members, particularly against those considering a defection to another candidate. Earlier this month, one such agreement was leaked from a 2016 presidential candidate’s file, revealing an interesting set of restrictions in place against any staff member opting to leave the campaign mid-season.

One clause perhaps unique to the public official sector is the promise not to disparage or demean the candidate post-departure. While this type of provision would hardly be necessary in private industry, it makes sense in the context of running a campaign, as disparaging and demeaning discourse could create a serious deficiency for a presidential candidate — particularly if the information is newsworthy or contains any sort of gossip element.

Another interesting provision — which perhaps embodies general non-compete language, campaign-style — is the staffer’s promise not to leave the candidate’s campaign to work directly or indirectly for an opposing candidate. Moreover, this particularly agreement went so far as to prevent work on campaigns for either compensation or as a volunteer — creating a seemingly ironclad prohibition against any campaign work for any other candidate in any form whatsoever.

Often, campaign staff members work for surprisingly low pay — or completely as volunteers. Using non-compete agreements on the campaign trail is certainly not surprising, but may raise questions of enforceability when it comes to preventing unpaid volunteers from seeking alternative employment or volunteer opportunities elsewhere.

If you are dealing with a difficult non-compete agreement with your current or former employer, consult with a competent employment lawyer for guidance.