Reminder about state restrictions on political activity
The Ethics in Public Service Act and its provisions apply to all state employees and officials. Adherence to the state ethics rules is a responsibility borne by the individual; the consequences for noncompliance are personally impacting and may even negatively impact your position, your unit, or the University.

With the election season underway, the Office of Internal Audit is reminding all University 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 a WSU email account or network, or through a private account on a 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 email 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. Further, be cognizant of your surroundings when you engage in these activities—even if you are on your break and on your personal phone, if you engage the political communications within a working environment like an office space it may create an appearance of misuse of resources.
  • 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. Specifically, with so many of our community working remote from home and holding meetings or class via Zoom, take care with the spaces visible to Zoom participants in your background or in your Zoom background.
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 on the political use webpage.
Heather Lopez
Chief Audit Executive/Ethics Advisor
Office of Internal Audit
Office of Internal Audit, Washington State University
PO Box 641221, Pullman, WA 99164-1221

Washington State University.