Rules on Political Campaign Activities
With elections coming in November, the campaign season is officially under way, and the Public Information Office would like to provide college employees with this reminder of the laws regarding political and election activities.
In addition to races at the city, state, and national level, two Board of Trustees seats will be up for election:
- Trustee Area No. 1 – Incumbent Michael Berger is running unopposed.
- Trustee Area No. 5 – Candidates include incumbent Joan MacGregor and Ann-Marie Bjorkman.
Most of this material has been distributed before, but many new employees have joined the college recently, and all of us can use a refresher on the rules. The following information is summarized from L.A. County Office of Education guidelines, the SCCCD Board Policy Manual, and Education Code, sections 7050 - 7058.
The laws protect everyone’s First Amendment rights to vote their consciences, voice their opinions and participate in campaigns. However, school and college district trustees, officials and employees have restrictions and prohibitions that govern their political and election activities.
Public funds and resources CANNOT be used to support or oppose any ballot measure or candidate, including any candidate for election to the governing board of the district. However, public funds and/or resources CAN be used to provide information about possible effects of any ballot measure if the information provides a fair and impartial presentation of relevant facts. This means:
1. Employees and others may NOT use district resources, facilities, equipment or supplies to campaign for or against ballot measures or candidates.
This rule restricts production of campaign materials. For example, the Reprographics department cannot print campaign materials, even if the district is reimbursed for the cost. District paper, printers, computers, duplicating equipment, etc., cannot be used for creating campaign materials. District funds cannot be used to produce materials off campus either, and district time cannot be used.
This rule also restricts distribution of campaign messages, for example, the college’s telephones, computers, e-mail system, and mailroom may NOT be used. Campaign materials may NOT be mailed from the college’s mailroom. In addition, district internal mailboxes may NOT be used to distribute campaign materials expressing viewpoints for or against ballot measures and candidates. Campaign materials cannot be directly slotted into these mailboxes by the district, by employees, or by others. However, because the internal mailboxes are also U.S. postal boxes, mail that arrives through the U.S. Postal Service, addressed to specific employees, CAN be slotted in the mailboxes.
2. Employees may NOT campaign for or against ballot measures or candidates during working hours. However, while off campus and on one’s own time, faculty, staff and officials may voluntarily work for or against ballot measures and candidates.
3. Note that at any time board members and students may pass resolutions, and prepare and distribute materials regarding BALLOT MEASURES that AFFECT the district.
4. Employees MAY wear campaign buttons, T-shirts, hats, etc., that present viewpoints on particular candidates or ballot measures during NON-INSTRUCTIONAL TIME, (although none of these items may be purchased with district funds). Employees may respond to questions with factual information, HOWEVER, employees MAY NOT wear buttons or campaign clothing that presents viewpoints on particular candidates or ballot measures during instructional time. While on district time, employees may encourage people to vote – but may not encourage people to vote in any particular way, either for or against any ballot measure or candidate.
5. Faculty should be particularly careful not to place campaign posters or materials in their classrooms and not to respond to student questions by telling them how to vote, while on campus and on district time. Staff should be careful not to place campaign materials and signs in their offices.
Thank you for your cooperation in adhering to these laws. Please encourage everyone of voting age to participate according to his or her beliefs on Election Day!
Political Rules Q&A
Every employee, faculty member, staff member, administrator, trustee and student has a constitutional right to participate in political activities, to support or oppose ballot measures, to have complete freedom as individuals to support specific candidates of their choice, and to vote as they please. College of the Canyons encourages participation in the political process and urges everyone eligible to register and vote. However, there are some fairly complex rules about what we can and cannot do, in our relationship to the district and the college.
The district/college and all employees (IN THEIR CAPACITY AS EMPLOYEES) are prohibited from attempting to influence, directly or indirectly, how any particular person votes. The district/college must be completely neutral. It is really important that no employee or student ever feels coerced to campaign for a certain person or measure, or to vote in a certain way.
Some of the campaign rules are difficult to interpret and it is not always easy to determine whether an activity is OK or not. There are grey areas. If you find yourself uncomfortable with an activity, it’s better to come down on the safe side and not do something that might create a problem for a candidate or a measure you support. Don’t just try to meet the letter of the law. The intention of the law is to have a fair election with no taxpayer district funds used to benefit any candidate or ballot proposal.
What does this mean in practical terms?
Everyone can campaign, but they must do so on their own time and may NOT use college resources (phones, paper, copiers, computers, email system, mailboxes, offices, classrooms or other facilities, etc.).
Can I do any campaign work, like making phone calls, during my regular workday?
Yes, if you take vacation, dock or other leave, if you are NOT on district time (before or after your work day, or during an unpaid break) and do NOT USE a college phone or any college resources. It is best for you to be off campus, but if that’s not possible, you can leave your office or classroom, go outside, during your lunch break or your other regularly scheduled break time. You may make calls from your personal phone.
Can I wear a campaign T-shirt or button on campus?
Yes, with some restrictions.
- Students can wear clothing with campaign messages at any time.
- Employees can wear them on campus, but not in instructional spaces, and faculty especially cannot wear them in classrooms. The issue is that faculty members have undue influence over students. If you wear campaign items while teaching, students may feel pressured to support your candidate or measure. Also, while teaching, you represent the college, and wearing campaign items during that time makes it appear the district/college is supporting what you are actually supporting as an individual.
Can campaign flyers and posters be posted on campus?
It depends: Posting flyers and posters must conform to the district policies on posting, which requires approval by the Office of Student Development. But in addition, be aware that there are special rules for political campaign posters. You can put a poster or sign in your office, as long as it does NOT point out a window into common areas (where it could be interpreted as the viewpoint of the college/district), and as long as it does not point out into classrooms, where it would influence students. If it is facing only into your office, it is OK. In most cases posting flyers on walls uses college/district resources. If there are some specific “student-owned” bulletin boards that are dedicated to allowing political campaign posters, then all viewpoints must be given the same amount of access and space on the bulletin boards.
Can informational flyers and posters be posted on campus?
Yes, informational flyers and posters may be posted on campus, provided they conform to the district policies on posting, which requires approval by the Office of Student Development.
Can campaign flyers be handed out on campus?
Handing out flyers is a protected form of expression; however, the college has time, place and manner rules.
1. Outsiders who want to pass out flyers must get prior permission from the Student Development Office.
2. The flyers must clearly show they are not endorsed by the college/district.
3. The people passing them out CANNOT impede the normal operations of the college.
4. The flyers CANNOT be distributed in classrooms or during instructional activities.
5. The flyers CANNOT be placed in district mailboxes.
6. Flyers CAN be sent to individuals at the college using the normal U.S. Post Office from off campus.
7. Campaign posters and signs CANNOT be posted on the stadium (not even temporary signs), because it is a district resource and because it is instructional space for P.E. classes.
Note: Flyers CAN be handed out in the stadium during athletic events because the games are public events.
Can employees and others wear campaign T-shirts, etc., during athletic events?
It depends. If the college employee – such as a coach, sports information officer, college photographer, etc. is working during the event, the answer is NO. It is OK if the employee is attending the event for pleasure and is not working or on district time.
Can an instructor or club advisor ask students to help with a campaign?
It depends. In general, this could be construed as pressuring students, so it must be done very neutrally.
- If an instructor makes students aware of volunteer opportunities, and NONE of the volunteer work is arranged or takes place during classes or in any instructional spaces, it is OK as long as it is totally clear that the volunteer work is not required, is completely volunteer, there is no pressure, and there is no impact on students’ grades, etc.
- It is critical that students do NOT perceive that they were coerced into volunteering for any political campaign.
Can an instructor encourage students to participate in political activities and give extra credit for the work?
Yes, under certain conditions.
- The activities should be related in some way to the curriculum. For example, extra credit could be given to students in a political science class or a service-learning program for working on a political campaign.
- However, it is necessary to make it completely clear that the college is neutral.
- There can be ABSOLUTELY NO DIRECTION given to the students on which side of a campaign to support with their volunteer work to get extra credit. And this cannot be the only way they can earn extra credit.
Can unions support ballot measures or candidates?
Yes, definitely, but there still are rules. Unions cannot use district resources to campaign just as individuals cannot. However, they can endorse candidates and measures, and they can conduct campaign activities as long as they don’t use district resources.
Can employees endorse candidates and measures publicly, and on campaign materials, during rallies, debates, forums, etc.?
Yes, but NOT in their official capacity. All employees must make very clear that any endorsement they make is their own, that they are acting as individuals and not in their capacity as representatives of the college/district. If possible, their college or district titles should not be used.
If an employee writes a letter of support for a measure, can he or she use college letterhead?
No. The college’s letterhead, logos, seals, etc., cannot be used on any campaign or endorsement material, as it would imply the district/college is endorsing. Remember that the district/college must remain neutral.
Can employees donate to campaigns?
Yes, employees can make personal donations.
How about email? Everyone understands not to use college email to do political campaign work. But what should be done about campaign messages that come in from the outside?
Remember not to forward the messages, and not to print them at the college.
We have little or no control over what comes in to our email inboxes, and sometimes it is very objectionable. Just put it in your computer’s trash. Be sure that if you wish to participate in campaign activities, you do that from your own computer, at home or somewhere not on campus. And use your own Internet Service Provider, not the district’s email service. Ask campaign committees to use your personal, off campus, not-district email address.
Also, even if using one’s own resources, and a non-district Internet provider, employees must still be careful that their signatures on their email do not include their role at the district/college. For example: signing an endorsement as Professor X, of the YZ Department, College of the Canyons, would not be OK.
Can a college elected official or an employee make a partisan comment in an official college publication or at an official college function?
Can employees and students have bumper stickers on their cars?
Yes, employees and students can put bumper stickers on their cars and signs (even very large signs) inside their cars, facing out of the windows. That is protected free speech, and a car is the owner’s private space.
Can campaigns put campaign flyers on car windshields in parking lots?
The district prohibits any kind of flyer or advertisement being placed on the outside of cars (such as on the doors and windshields) in parking lots because of the litter problem that creates.