Political Activities on Campus: What is Appropriate for UA Employees?
September 17th, 2012 - Filed under: News
Now that political campaigns are in full swing, it is a good time to remind UA faculty and staff of the state and federal laws that restrict political activities on campus. These restrictions apply to faculty and staff as individuals and as representatives of UA.
Alabama state law prohibits the use of “official authority or position for the purpose of influencing the vote or political action of any person” and the use of University “funds, property, or time, for any political activities.” Violation of these statutes can be the basis of a criminal prosecution.
Therefore, supervisors should be particularly careful not to take actions that could be perceived as trying to persuade or coerce employees under their direction to vote for a certain candidate for public office. Likewise, all employees must refrain from using University time or equipment for political activities. Using University computers to send messages urging recipients to vote for a particular candidate, posting campaign posters on University bulletin boards, or distributing campaign literature during work hours are examples of prohibited activities. University practice generally allows employees to wear political buttons or stickers and to hang posters or bumper stickers in their individual offices as long as such activities are not disruptive of the workplace.
Institutions granted federal tax-exempt status, such as the University, are absolutely prohibited under the Internal Revenue Code from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign. Violation of this restriction could result in the loss of tax-exempt status for the University.
Therefore, those employees who act on behalf of the University should take care not to allow activities that can be interpreted as a University endorsement or support of a particular candidate.
For example, providing mailing lists free of charge to a candidate for office, writing letters in support of a candidate on University letterhead, placing links on University websites to the website of a candidate, or using University funds to support a candidate are all prohibited activities that could place the University’s tax exempt status in jeopardy.
On the other hand, sponsoring non-partisan voter education programs, sponsoring public forums for all legally qualified candidates, and allowing approved student groups to use University facilities for partisan political activities are generally not a violation of the IRS restrictions.
The above examples are not an exhaustive list of prohibited and protected activities. Nevertheless, because of the serious consequences flowing from violations of these rules, University employees should exercise caution before engaging in or approving political activities in the workplace.
Additional guidance can be found in the Faculty Handbook section entitled Participation in Political Activities (Chapter Three, Section III.A).
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