Reminder about state restrictions on political activity

WSU cougar logo.

With the election season underway, the Office of Internal Audit is reminding employees that state laws contain strict guidelines on campaigning and lobbying.

As a private citizen, you are free to lobby or support candidates, issues and campaigns. But you must do so on your own time, with your own resources, and while making it clear that you are not speaking on behalf of Washington State University.

The office recommends employees note the following:

  • De minimis use exceptions do not apply to political activities. This means that even a brief political email or phone call on state time or with state equipment or resources is prohibited. If you want to support a position or candidate—do not send email from WSU email account, network or through private account on WSU computer with messaging that implies or states that support (or opposition). One email is enough for a violation.
  • Individuals with the authority over employees (such as supervisors) or with control over facilities, have a duty to halt employee use of state resources for political activities. Knowing acquiescence in such use is itself a violation of the Ethics Act.
  • If you send or share emails related to a candidate for office or ballot proposition, send it from your home email address, from your home computer, on your own time. Also, do not send political endorsements or other campaign materials to other employees’ state (WSU) email accounts—even if sent from your personal email account.
  • If you make phone calls related to political activities, make them on your personal phone on your own time.
  • Make sure your personal campaign activities do not interfere with your official duties or the official duties of any other state employee. Using work hours (yours or others at your direction) to solicit signatures for ballot propositions, to raise funds for or against such propositions, or to organize campaigns for or against such opposition is prohibited.
  • Wearing a campaign button or displaying political material in one’s personally assigned space is a personal expression allowed by the Ethics in Public Service Act. However, this can be problematic in publicly visible spaces, like walls and reception desks, and can leave the impression that the institution supports a campaign.

Generally speaking, the basic rule is that state resources cannot be used for political activity. A primary concern is the avoidance of situations where it might appear that an employee is speaking on behalf of the University.

Further information is available at the Office of Internal Audit’s website.

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