Political Activity and Lobbying

This policy on political activity and lobbying applies to:

a. all University of Puget Sound employees, including faculty, staff and student-staff, when working for the university or otherwise engaged in activities that are in the course and scope of their employment;

b. individuals who perform services for the university as volunteers, including alumni, trustees, and others;

c. students; and

d. other individuals or entities who represent the university. 

The policy and guidelines for applying it are organized into the following sections:

Introduction and Purpose of this Policy

University of Puget Sound is committed to the full, open, and civil discussion of a broad range of ideas, perspectives, and opinions and encourages members of the university community to be active and engaged citizens, to express political views, to exercise their right to vote, and to participate in the electoral process.

At the same time, as a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, University of Puget Sound is prohibited from directly or indirectly participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for elective public office. The prohibition applies to all campaigns, including campaigns at the federal, state, and local level, and is absolute. Violations of our stipulated policy on political activity and lobbying could result in the university losing its tax-exempt status.

It is important to remember that the prohibition on political campaign activity applies only to the university, not to the activities of individual members of the university community in their private capacities. Indeed, the prohibition on political activity is not intended to restrict free expression on political matters by campus community members as individuals independent of their formal roles and responsibilities at the university. Similarly, the prohibition on political campaign activity does not prohibit the university from having contact with individuals who are candidates for public office. However, the prohibition and other laws (including laws that regulate lobbying activity intended to influence proposed legislation), do impose certain limitations on expressions of political opinion by the university or those acting in official capacities on the university’s behalf and the use of university resources to support or subsidize political activities.

This policy addresses political activity of the university, not the political activity of individuals in their private, personal lives. Nothing in this policy is intended to restrict individual freedom of speech or the full, open, and civil exchange of ideas and viewpoints that are fundamental to the university’s educational mission.

NOTE: Capitalized terms used in this policy have specific meanings. To ensure an understanding of capitalized terms, please refer to the Definition of Terms in this Policy and Other Background Information section in conjunction with reading the following policy statement.

Policy Statement

Political Activity

It is the policy of University of Puget Sound that Political Activity by Campus Community Members, as individuals, should be encouraged. Moreover, every individual associated with University of Puget Sound has the right to organize and to join political associations and to advocate and publicize political opinions.

Because of statutory restrictions placed on Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, however, University of Puget Sound may not engage in Political Activity and University Resources may not be used in any way to suggest university endorsement or support, of or opposition to, any candidate for elective public office or any political party.

Individual Political Activities of Campus Community Members, including campaigning for candidates, must be kept separate and distinct from actions taken by such community members for or on behalf of the university.

Lobbying

The university is permitted to engage in some Lobbying, and to encourage others to do so, up to certain limits with no risk to its tax-exempt status. Because of these limits and IRS reporting requirements for Lobbying, the Office of the President, with appropriate consultation with the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, the Provost, and/or the Vice President and University Counsel, must approve all Lobbying on behalf of the University of Puget Sound. The Office of the President will inform the Office of Finance about approved Lobbying so Lobbying Expenditures are tracked for required reporting.

Campus Community Members may be asked by their professional associations to participate in Lobbying activities. In such cases, unless the Lobbying is approved as described in the preceding paragraph, the individual must ensure that others understand they are acting as an individual or on behalf of a professional association, and that they are not acting on behalf of the University of Puget Sound. [If their university title or affiliation is to be listed in any lobbying publication or communication, a disclaimer should be added to the publication or communication that states “Organization or university affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.”]

The university cannot provide any financial support or University Resources for Unapproved Lobbying Activities.

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Guidelines for Applying this Policy

While the federal tax law prohibition on Political Activity does not apply to Campus Community Members as individuals, it is essential that any individual activity not be attributed to the university. Campus Community Members or other individuals who choose to engage in Political Campaign Activities must do so on their own time and with their own resources. It is also essential that Lobbying conducted on behalf of the university be authorized and tracked as described in this policy. All Campus Community Members are responsible for adhering to the policy statement above and guidelines identified in the remaining sections of this policy that are organized as follows:

NOTE: Capitalized terms used in this policy have specific meanings. To ensure an understanding of capitalized terms, please refer to the Definition of Terms in this Policy and Other Background Information section in conjunction with reading the the following guidelines.

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Voter Education and Voter Registration (including Voter Guides and Get-Out-the-Vote-Drives)

  1. The university is prohibited from conducting voter education or registration activities in a biased manner that favors or opposes one or more candidates. However, if such activities are conducted in a Non-partisan manner, the university as a section 501(c)(3) organization is permitted to conduct certain voter education activities (including the presentation of public forums and the publication of voter education guides) and to encourage people to participate in the electoral process through voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives.
  2. Campus Community Members who conduct voter education or registration activities on behalf of the university must do so in a Non-partisan manner.

Issue Advocacy vs. Political Campaign Intervention

  1. Under federal tax law, the university is permitted to take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candidates in an election for public office. However, the university must avoid any issue advocacy that functions as political campaign intervention. Following are guidelines for communications or statements issued by or on behalf of the University of Puget Sound that advocate on an issue of public policy.
  2. To avoid being characterized as campaign intervention, university communications and statements on advocacy issues should not:

    a. identify any candidates for a given public office;
    b. express approval or disapproval for any candidate’s positions and/or actions;
    c. be delivered close in time to the election;
    d. make reference to voting or an election; or
    e. focus on an issue that has been raised as distinguishing between candidates as a means of implicitly endorsing or opposing a political candidate.
  3. Ideally, the communication should be part of an ongoing series of communications on the same issue that are made independent of the timing of any election.
  4. If timing of the communication is close to a non-electoral event such as a scheduled vote on specific legislation by an officeholder who also happens to be a candidate for public office, the communication will likely be considered Lobbying, in which case please refer to guidelines for Lobbying below.

Lobbying

  1. Before engaging in any Lobbying on behalf of the University of Puget Sound, approval must be obtained from the Office of the President.
  2. Before approving a lobbying activity, the Office of the President will engage in an appropriate consultation with the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, the Provost, and/or the Vice President and University Counsel.
  3. The Office of the President will coordinate with the Office of Finance to ensure Lobbying Expenditures are tracked for required reporting.

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Political Activity

  1. No one may use University Resources in connection with Political Campaign Activities. This includes using Puget Sound’s email system, official publications or letterhead to urge others to support or oppose a particular candidate or to attend candidate fundraising events.
  2. No one may engage in any political fundraising activities while on university premises and no one may use University Resources to make or transmit personal campaign contributions, including in-kind contributions of services (e.g., copying, postage) or facilities.
  3. If University Resources are used inadvertently for Political Activities, the university must be reimbursed in full so the activities cannot be imputed to the university.
  4. As part of an educational activity in a course, faculty may include assignments for students to become involved with political campaigns or policy groups. Such academic activities are permissible so long as the activities are truly educational, students have the option to choose the candidates they work for, the university does not control their campaign work, and the university is reimbursed or paid for any services or facilities provided to the students in connection with the campaigns.
  5. University employees (faculty, staff, or student-staff) who desire to participate in campaign activities during normal working hours must follow established university policies (for their type of employment) to seek approval for personal leave to do so.
  6. Anyone associated with the university who wishes to assume an official position with a campaign (i.e. treasurer, member of a campaign advisory committee, etc.) must make it clear that such participation is in their individual capacity, should request that the campaign make no reference to their position with the university and should use their personal contact information (personal email, cell phone and/or home address) for campaign-related correspondence.
  7. No action should be taken that might implicate the University of Puget Sound, as an organization, in Political Campaign Activities.

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Candidate Appearances (candidate and non-candidate roles)

General Guidelines

  1. Before inviting any candidate for any elective public office to speak at a university event or other event that takes place on Puget Sound’s campus, approval must be obtained from the Office of the President. This requirement applies to candidate debates, forums, or other events where candidates for an elective public office may appear, including those sponsored or co-sponsored by student clubs, outside groups, or third parties on university premises.
  2. Prior to approving a candidate invitation, the Office of the President will engage in an appropriate consultation with the Vice President and University Counsel, the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, and/or the Provost to ensure an informed decision is made that minimizes risk to the university’s tax-exempt status.
  3. If an event sponsor or co-sponsor is an individual or organization other than University of Puget Sound, they must agree to follow the guidelines in this section for candidate appearances.
  4. No political fundraising may occur on university premises or at a university event.
  5. If one candidate is invited to appear on campus, all other legally qualified candidates seeking the same office must be offered an equal opportunity to participate, whether in the same event or at subsequent events. In determining whether candidates are given an equal opportunity to participate, the nature of the event to which each candidate is invited, in addition to the manner of the presentation, must be considered. For example, if the university were to invite one candidate to speak at an event with a large audience and invite an opposing candidate to speak at a poorly attended event, the university would likely have violated the prohibition on Political Activity (and risk losing its tax exemption), even if the manner of presentation for both speakers is otherwise neutral.
  6. The Campus Community Member who organizes, sponsors, co-sponsors, or is the university’s liaison for the event must make it clear that the university does not engage in Political Activity by providing the following disclaimer(s) at the beginning (and end, if possible) of the event.

    Disclaimer to provide for all events:

    University of Puget Sound is a Non-partisan organization and does not support or oppose any candidate for public office. Consistent with the university’s educational mission and in the spirit of community engagement, Puget Sound may welcome candidates to campus to share their viewpoints with their community.

    If another organization is sponsoring or co-sponsoring the event, add the following to the disclaimer above:

    As a service to the community, Puget Sound may welcome other organizations to use its facilities. University facilities are generally available to organizations that agree to comply with university policies.

    Note: The general disclaimers identified above may need to be customized to fit the facts and circumstances of a particular event.
  7. If access to air-time on KUPS 90.1 FM is provided to any candidates, it must be offered on an equal basis to all other legally qualified candidates for the same public office, in a manner consistent with the limits imposed by Federal Communications Commission standards.

Specific Guidelines

  1. Candidate forums or debates:

    a. All legally qualified candidates for the contested office must be invited to participate.
    b. Questions or debate topics should cover a broad range of issues that the candidates would address if elected to the office sought and that are of interest to the public. Topics may include those issues of importance to the organization sponsoring the debate, but the topics should not be narrowly tailored to single issues that clearly divide the candidates.   Questions presented to the candidates should be composed by an independent, Non-partisan group.
    c. Each candidate must receive an equal opportunity to present their views on the issues discussed.
    d. Candidates should not be asked to agree or disagree with positions, agendas, platforms, or statements of the organization sponsoring the forum or debate.
    e. A moderator should be selected by the sponsoring organization and their role should be limited to ensuring that the debate ground rules are followed and that the questions are posed to all of the candidates in an unbiased, even-handed manner.
    f. The debate should begin and end with a clear statement to the effect that the views presented are those of the candidates and not of the sponsoring organization(s) and that the university is a Non-partisan organization and does not endorse or oppose any candidate for public office.
  2. Candidate appearances in a non-candidate capacity (e.g., in their role as an incumbent public official or as a civic leader):

    a. The individual or their representative(s) may not mention the individual’s candidacy or the election during their appearance.
    b. No campaign activity (including political fundraising) may occur in connection with the candidate’s appearance at the event.
    c. A Non-partisan atmosphere must be maintained on the premises or at the event where the candidate is present.
    d. The Campus Community Member who invites the candidate or is the university’s liaison for the event must clearly communicate the non-political capacity in which the candidate is appearing and may not mention the individual’s political candidacy or the upcoming election in any communications that announce the candidate’s attendance at the event.

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Renting or Using University Facilities

  1. Before allowing any individual or group to rent or use Puget Sound facilities to conduct political campaign activities, approval must be obtained from the Associate Vice President for Finance, who will consult with the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer and/or the Vice President and University Counsel as needed. This is because there are other regulatory requirements and/or university policies to consider in addition to the prohibition on Political Activity by the university that is the subject of this policy. Examples include property tax exemption and tax-exempt bond regulations and the facility use policy for external groups.
  2. Facilities rented or used must only be those that are available for rental or use by the general public, within the parameters of university policy, and they must be made available to all legally qualified candidates in the same election on an equal basis.
  3. Any fees charged to candidates must be at the university’s customary and usual rates.
  4. The rental or use of university facilities must be an ongoing activity of the university and not an activity conducted only for a particular candidate.

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Political Signs on Campus

  1. For purposes of this policy, political signs include signs, posters, or banners that directly or indirectly support or oppose any: candidate for elective public office; ballot initiative, referendum, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure; or legislation by federal, state, or local governing bodies (including acts, bill, resolutions, or legislative confirmation of appointive office).
  2. Students, faculty, and staff of the university may display political signs in their university-owned residences (including in windows), provided such display complies with other university policies governing display of posters or signs on campus, as applicable.
  3. Display of political signs on or in university-owned property (including buildings, grounds, and vehicles), other than in student, faculty, or staff residences on campus, is not permitted.

 

University Website

  1. The IRS has taken the position with respect to the websites of 501(c)(3) organizations that:

    a. information posted on an organization’s websites is the same as the distribution of printed material, oral statements, or broadcasts; and
    b. when an organization establishes a link to another website, the organization is responsible for the consequences of establishing and maintaining that link, even if the organization does not have control over the content of the linked site. Accordingly, organizations should carefully consider the purpose of the link and the context in which the link is presented on the organization’s website, should scrutinize the content of the linked site, and should from time to time monitor the content of the linked site to see if there have been any material changes.
  2. Links to candidate-related material, by themselves, do not necessarily constitute political campaign intervention. However, to reduce the risk of prohibited Political Campaign Activity:

    a. Before establishing a link from any University of Puget Sound (including ASUPS) website to a candidate’s website or other candidate-related material, approval is needed from the Vice President for Communications and Chief of Staff or designee.
    b. University offices or departments are responsible for monitoring linked content and making changes as needed to avoid linking to websites or other content of a Partisan political nature.

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Political Content in Student-Operated Media
(KUPS 90.1 FM, The Trail, Crosscurrents Review, Wetlands, Elements, or other)

  1. Student-operated media, including but not limited to KUPS 90.1 FM, The Trail, Crosscurrents Review, Wetlands, Elements, may accept paid political advertising by candidates provided all of the following conditions are met:

    a. acceptance of the advertising must be made on the same basis as other nonpolitical advertising, in a manner consistent with limits imposed by Federal Communications Commission standards, as applicable;
    b. advertising must be solicited in a fair manner according to established guidelines, and equal time given to all candidates who wish to use the broadcast medium for paid political advertising;
    c. all advertisements must be preceded by the following two statements:
         i. this advertisement is paid advertising and not reflective of the views of the University of Puget Sound; and
         ii. University of Puget Sound is not permitted to endorse candidates for public office, and this advertisement should not be considered an endorsement.
  2. If the student newspaper (The Trail) or other student publications choose to publish opinions, editorials, statements, or political cartoons that oppose or endorse specific legislation and/or candidates for public office:

    a. that section of the The Trail or other publication must include a clear statement that the views reflected are those of the individual(s) writing the opinion or student editors, as applicable, and are not the views of The University of Puget Sound; and
    b. every issue of The Trail or other publication must include a statement that all content and editorial decisions remain in the hands of the students who operate the publication.

Student-Led Political Organizations

  1. The student body at Puget Sound is dynamic and diverse, with different political beliefs. To foster knowledge sharing and proactive discourse, University of Puget Sound supports student-led political organizations (clubs) on campus.
  2. ASUPS administers guidelines and processes for student-led clubs to promote student organizations and various student programming on campus that enriches the co-curricular experiences of Puget Sound students.
  3. Student-led political organizations and their members must comply with this policy and follow the guidelines for its application.  This requirement prohibits political campaign fundraising on campus and use of university resources for Political Campaign Activities, including recruitment of campaign volunteers. If ASUPS budgets or other university resources are used inadvertently for Political Activities, ASUPS or the university (as applicable) must be reimbursed in full so the activities cannot be imputed to the university.

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Connections to Other Policies

Other university policy statements that include information relevant to this policy include, but are not limited to:

Policy Review and Approval

The Vice President and University Counsel or designee is responsible for initiating a periodic review of this policy, engaging stakeholders as appropriate in such review, and recommending modifications as needed to the President’s Cabinet for approval.

  • Origination date: June 1979
  • Last revised date: October 2018
  • Last reviewed date: October 2018

Contact for Questions

Vice President and University Counsel or Associate Vice President for Financial Planning and Analysis

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Definition of Terms in this Policy and Other Background Information

  1. “University of Puget Sound,” “Puget Sound,” and “university” refer to The University of Puget Sound.
  2. “ASUPS” refers to the Associated Students of the University of Puget Sound.
  3. “Campus Community Members” include:

    a. all University of Puget Sound employees, including faculty, staff and student-staff, when working for the university or otherwise engaged in activities that are in the course and scope of their employment;
    b. individuals who perform services for the university as volunteers, including alumni, trustees, and others;
    c. students; and
    d. other individuals or entities who represent the university.
  4. “University Resources” include the resources of both University of Puget Sound and ASUPS because they are part of the same legal entity. University resources include but are not limited to:

    a. the name, logo, or other identifying marks of the university or ASUPS;
    b. university-owned, leased, or rented facilities or vehicles (including ASUPS vehicles);
    c. university services (e.g. mail or catering);
    d. supplies or services purchased with university or ASUPS funds (e.g. paper, university letterhead, office supplies, postage, consultant or contractor time);
    e. mailing lists, printers, photocopiers, telephones, email systems, computers, websites, databases, or other information technology resources that are owned, leased, or rented by the university or ASUPS;
    f. faculty, staff or student-staff time, when they are working for the university (including ASUPS) or are otherwise engaged in activities that are in the course and scope of their employment;
    g. university or ASUPS monetary resources such as budgets, designated or carryover funds, gift or grant funds, petty cash, or monetary deposits or receipts.
  5. “Tax-exempt Organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code,” “Section 501(c)(3) Organization,” and “501(c)(3) Organization” refer to a tax-exempt entity that is organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”). As an organization described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Code, a private nonprofit university is exempt from federal income taxation under Section 501(a) of the Code. The University of Puget Sound falls within this definition.
  6. “Non-partisan” refers to activities or events that offer balanced, neutral, or impartial viewpoints and perspectives on issues of public concern and do not evince a bias for or against a particular political party or candidate.
  7. “Partisan” refers to political activities or events that evince a bias for or against a political party or candidate.
  8. “Political Activity” or “Political Campaign Activity” is defined under the Internal Revenue Code as directly or indirectly participating in or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elective public office
  9. “Lobbying” is defined under the Internal Revenue Code as attempting to influence legislation. Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure. Lobbying does not, however, include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies. An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation. As a Section 501(c)(3) organization, University of Puget Sound may engage in a certain amount of lobbying, but if a substantial part of its activities constitute lobbying, the university may face penalty taxes and risk the loss of its tax-exempt status.

    Lobbying may be further broken down into the following categories:

    a. “Direct Lobbying” is defined under the Internal Revenue Code as any communication with a legislator or legislative staff or with a government official who participates in formulating legislation that expresses a view about specific legislation.
    b. “Grassroots Lobbying” under the Internal Revenue Code is defined as any communication with the general public that expresses a view about specific legislation and includes a call to action.
    c. “Unapproved Lobbying Activities” for purposes of this policy are lobbying activities on behalf of University of Puget Sound that are not authorized by a member of the President’s Cabinet.
  10. “Lobbying Expenditures” are expenditures paid or incurred for Lobbying. Per IRS regulations, Lobbying Expenditures include paid time spent on Lobbying as well as allocable overhead and administrative costs.
  11. “Educational Activity” or “Issue Advocacy” is Non-partisan educational activities concerning public policy issues. 501(c)(3) organizations may involve themselves in issues of public policy, including taking positions on issues of importance to the organization, without the activity being considered Lobbying. For example, organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner, and as long as such activities do not advocate the adoption of legislation or legislative action, they will not constitute Lobbying. In order to qualify as Educational Activities, however, the organization must present a sufficiently full and fair exposition of the pertinent facts to permit the public to form its own opinion or conclusion independent of that presented by the organization. And, as discussed below, 501(c)(3) organizations must tread carefully when taking positions on public policy issues, because in certain contexts, Issue Advocacy can constitute political campaign intervention.
  12. “Participation” and “intervention” in a Political Campaign

    An organization “participates” or “intervenes” in a political campaign by engaging in an activity that supports or opposes one or more candidates for elective public office at the federal, state, or local level. Two examples of obvious violations of the prohibition on Political Campaign Activity are political campaign contributions made by a 501(c)(3) organization, or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. These activities would be considered clear instances of prohibited political intervention and by engaging in them, the organization would clearly put its tax-exempt status in jeopardy. Depending on the facts and circumstances, however, an organization can also be found to have participated or intervened in a political campaign through such actions as providing facilities or other assets to a candidate or campaign, lending employees to serve as campaign volunteers, engaging in voter registration efforts, or hosting debates or candidate forums.

    The main takeaway is the University of Puget Sound needs to be vigilant in its efforts to ensure that both the university and Campus Community Members (when acting in a capacity of representing the university) remain Non-partisan with respect to all political candidates and not evince bias favoring one candidate over another, oppose a candidate in some manner, or engage in actions that have the effect of favoring or opposing a specific candidate or group of candidates in an election.

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Sources

Reference materials that informed creation and/or revision of this policy:

Available on public websites:

Access limited to clients: Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Protecting Section 501(c)(3) Status: Lobbying and Political Campaign Activities 

Access limited to paid subscribers: National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) A Guide to Federal Tax Issues for Colleges and Universities