Caution urged during upcoming political season

September 2, 2010
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UCCS faculty and staff are encouraged to participate in upcoming elections but must be aware of the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act and restrictions on the use of university resources.

During an Aug. 31 campus forum, Patrick O’Rourke, managing senior associate university counsel, CU System, explained that university resources cannot be spent on partisan political activities such as campaigning for a candidate, initiative or referendum.

University resources include university computers, e-mail addresses, web sites, telephones, office equipment, and time.

Most employees understand that office equipment and campus vehicles are not to be used for political purposes, O’Rourke said. Time is a somewhat more difficult concept. He advised university employees to avoid any discussions that could be viewed as partisan political activities or advocacy during work hours unless they have taken official leave of absence.

If campaigning during non work hours, O’Rourke advised university employees to state that they are speaking as individuals and are not speaking on behalf of the university as a public entity.. As the elected officials governing the university, only the CU Board of Regents possesses the authority to pass resolutions that express the university’s official positions on ballot initiatives affecting the university.

The Regents passed a resolution July 16 opposing Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 [PDF], which Colorado voters will decide in November.

The resolution passed 7-2, with Regents Jim Geddes, R-Sedalia, and Tom Lucero, R-Berthoud, dissenting. The majority on the board said they believed the measures would harm the university—which has already sustained significant reductions in state funding—by reducing revenue and prohibiting bond financing.

Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak advised that letters-to-the editor to area newspapers should be signed as individuals and not bear the writer’s title at UCCS.

Shockley-Zalabak will take leave in the weeks leading to the election to oppose Amendments 60 and 60 and Proposition 101. She encouraged faculty and staff to “become educated” about the amendments and to take part in the political process while also following O’Rourke’s counsel and the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

UCCS buildings and grounds are also affected. Campus buildings, rooms and grounds may be used for political gatherings but must be open to all citizens and representatives of both sides of an issue should be invited to participate.

Campaign-Related Activities: A Summary

General Prohibitions

The Fair Campaign Practices Act, also known as Campaign Reform Act, C.R.S. § 1-45-117, generally prohibits public entities, including institutions of higher education, from expending any public moneys from any source for contributions to a campaign for elected office, or to urge electors to vote in favor or against any ballot issue or referred measure.

  • Public money is broadly construed, and includes in-kind contributions such as services or non-monetary resources.
  • The secretary of state may investigate any complaint from any person.

Guidance for University Employees

  • Employees may not engage in any activity during working hours designed to urge electors to vote for or against any campaign issues, which include campaigns for public office, state-wide campaign issues or referred measures, and local campaign issues or levies.
  • Employees wishing to participate in a campaign activity during working hours must take personal leave.
  • Employees may not use office supplies or equipment, including computers, telephones, printers or facsimile machines to create materials urging electors to vote for or against a campaign issue.
  • Employees may not use their University email accounts to urge electors to vote for or against a campaign issue, or to forward materials that urge electors to vote for or against a campaign issue.
  • Employees may not use University websites or list serves to urge electors to vote for or against a campaign issue.

Rules for Faculty Members

  • Faculty members may engage in advocacy activities related to a campaign issue during months in which they are not on contract, or during the school year in accordance with applicable department or campus policies on use of personal time.
  • Faculty members should avoid the appearance of impropriety by clarifying wherever possible that such activities are being conducted on personal time and not on behalf of or at the request of the university.
  • Faculty members remain subject to other limitations on the use of state resources, including University email, even if using personal time.

Rules for Students

  • Students may engage in political expression without limitation, except that they may not use university resources in advocating for or against a campaign issue.
  • Money generated through student fees and equipment or materials purchased with student fees are considered University resources.
  • Student groups are free to organize for advocacy purposes. If an advocacy group raises monies other than student fees for the purposes of campaign advocacy, they may not co-mingle such monies—they must maintain separate accounts.

Allowed Activities

  • University employees may provide information in response to questions posed in the ordinary course of their duties, even if the information provided relates to a ballot issue, so long as the question was not solicited by a state employee.
  • The Board of Regents may pass a resolution adopting an advocacy position related to a ballot issue. The resolution may be distributed by any normal and customary means and in response to a question.
  • Policy-makers such as the president and chancellor may adopt an opinion related to a ballot issue and spend up to $50 publicizing that opinion. If such an opinion is adopted, it may be communicated in response to a question.
  • Employees may use personal time to engage in any advocacy activities, provided that they do not use state resources. As a general rule, employees should always make it clear that they are taking personal time and that they are not speaking on behalf of the university.
  • The University may allow access to its meeting facilities for political expression as public forums or limited public forums. So long as access is not restricted based on viewpoint—i.e., so long as there is equal access to advocates on all sides of an issue—the resource is not being used for advocacy.
  • The University may allow a meeting room to be used by an advocacy group, so long as the same or similar space is available to any opposing advocacy group. Forums offered to provide information about a ballot issue should include both sides of the ballot issue. However, student advocacy groups may invite a candidate to speak without inviting opposing candidates, so long as other student advocacy groups are afforded the same opportunities to invite opposing candidates to speak.
  • The university may set additional reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on these activities.
  • If University space is used to host a candidate or advocacy activity, the following rules are advisable:
    • Attendance must be open to the public or to all students.
    • A disclaimer must be made on any printed materials and/or at the event that the university does not endorse the candidate, and that any opposing candidate or advocacy group will be offered a similar opportunity to speak.

– Ron Fitz

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