State Governmental Relations
Legal guidelines for UC participation in ballot campaigns
University funds (including University paid time and equipment) may not lawfully be used for campaign purposes in connection with ballot propositions. University funds may be used for legitimate informational activities. These guidelines are intended to assist in drawing the difficult distinction between legitimate informational activities and unlawful campaign activities. The following questions and answers provide some general guidelines, but are not exhaustive. UC officials and staff should always consult with the General Counsel concerning the propriety of any specific course of conduct.
- FAQ: Use of university resources in connection with ballot measures
- FAQ: Employee opposition to or support of ballot measures
- Webinar: UC Participation in Ballot Campaigns: Legal Guidelines
- May UC use staff, equipment and supplies to generate promotional materials on behalf of ballot measures which have already qualified for the ballot?
No. University resources may not be used for campaign purposes. This applies to all university resources coming from any university account.
- May UC analyze the effect of ballot measures?
Yes. UC may use its resources to objectively evaluate a ballot measure's impact on the university and higher education.
- May UC make available on request the results of its objective evaluation of a ballot measure's impact?
Yes. Indeed, UC is normally required to make its records available to the public on request under the California Public Records Act.
- Under what circumstances may the university, on its own initiative, distribute information concerning the impact of a ballot measure?
University resources may be used under circumstances where the distribution is consistent with legitimate informational and not campaign purposes. There is no hard and fast rule for judging whether a communication is informational or promotional. Material which exhorts voters to "vote yes" is, of course, promotional; however, documents which do not contain such exhortations may nonetheless be considered promotional. Some of the factors courts look at in determining whether a publication or mailing is a "fair presentation of the facts" are the style, tenor and timing of the piece. Informational communication must state facts and arguments on both sides of the issue. The courts will look more favorably on such communications if they are consistent with the tradition of such communications on matters of university concern or are made because of a particular interest of the audience in receiving the information.
A special mailing of the same article made on the eve of the election might well be viewed as an improper campaign activity even if "informational" in content.
- May UC contribute resources to ballot measure campaigns which have already qualified for the ballot?
No. Under state law, university resources may not be used to make contributions for campaign purposes.
Do the same restrictions on ballot measure campaign activity that apply to the University also apply to campus foundations and alumni organizations, which are auxiliary organizations of the University?
No, although restrictions do exist. Unlike the University, campus foundations and alumni associations are separately incorporated and are not considered part of the government and, therefore, are generally not subject to the law applicable to the University. However, alumni associations and campus foundations may contribute resources to a ballot measure campaign or may sponsor ballot measure campaign activities only under the following circumstances. First, under University policy (including Regents Policy 8302 and 8301), alumni associations and campus foundations may make financial expenditures for campaign purposes that are legally appropriate to support measures clearly beneficial to the University (such as educational facilities bond measures that include funding for UC) only when such measures have been endorsed by the Regents. Second, resources dedicated for ballot measure campaign purposes must be raised from private sources that are unrestricted/not earmarked for campaign purposes and cannot come from or make use of university accounts. Third, activities an alumni association or campus foundation undertakes in support of a ballot measure campaign cannot be carried out by University employees on University-paid time. It is also important to note that ballot measure campaign activities, including donations of funds or services, may require reporting to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Similarly, as 501(c)(3) organizations, alumni associations and campus foundations can devote no more than an “insubstantial amount” of their overall activities for lobbying (which includes activities and expenditures intended to influence passage of ballot measures) or risk jeopardizing their 501(c)(3) status. A reasonable interpretation of this rule indicates that activities in support of lobbying should not exceed 3 to 5 percent of the organization's overall activities and resources, including its time and effort (which includes the time and effort of volunteers).
- In what other campaign activities can UC alumni associations and foundations engage to support a ballot measure?
University alumni associations and campus foundations can participate in the full array of activities in support of a ballot measure as long as they comply with all applicable restrictions and reporting requirements described above. These activities include making donations to the campaign organization; endorsing the ballot measure; sponsoring phone banks; and distributing campaign materials.
- What types of educational activities are permissible for the University to engage in?
While the University (and university employees acting in their official capacities or with university resources) may not campaign for or against ballot initiatives that have qualified for the ballot, the University is permitted to engage in certain kinds of non-partisan, educational activities that are related to elections. For example, the University may host or support voter registration drives that are conducted in a non-partisan manner. Each campus may have its own policies and guidelines about use of campus facilities, so it is important to check with relevant campus officials regarding rules that may apply to a particular proposed event.
- May a university employee support or oppose a ballot measure?
Employees do not give up their constitutional rights upon joining a public agency. With only limited exceptions, no restrictions may be placed on the private political activities of public employees. Public employees should not, of course, use public resources (including time on the job) to advocate a particular position on a ballot measure. This restriction applies to all university employees, including high officials. Specifically, for example, no university employee on official business or using university resources should urge anyone to vote one way or another on a measure. University officials may separate their private from their official activities by taking vacation or reimbursing the university for any time or resources used in personal campaigning. Such time and resources can be recorded on a time sheet and reimbursed from a non-University account. Attached is a sample time sheet for such purposes. Under some circumstances an incidental and minimal use of public equipment or office space for campaign activities is permissible.
- May a university employee endorse a ballot measure in his/her private capacity and identify himself/herself by university title?
Yes. University officials may allow use of their names and titles for identification purposes in the same manner as others who sign an endorsement. An express disclaimer of university endorsement is required where the context might reasonably cause confusion as to whether the endorsement is made in an official or unofficial capacity.
- May the Board of Regents pass a resolution supporting or opposing a ballot measure impacting the university?
- May a university official discuss the position of the Board of Regents in a public speech?
Yes. A university official may use normal working hours to speak about the university's position on a ballot measure. Under these circumstances, it is not necessary to state the facts and arguments on the other side of the ballot measure. However, it is necessary to avoid urging a particular vote. It would be helpful to say something like the following: "I am pleased to provide you with information about the impact of the ballot measure on the university and to tell you why our Board of Regents supports (opposes) it, but I cannot ask you to vote in a particular way."
- What are the potential consequences of improperly using University resources to promote or oppose a ballot measure?
There are potential civil and criminal penalties for misuse of public resources. An individual who improperly uses university resources to campaign on a ballot measure may have to reimburse UC for the value of the resources used. In addition, the individual may face criminal sanctions for theft, misuse of university funds and fraud.
- When should a campus employee contemplating engagement in allowable activities seek assistance?
Even activities that are intended to be nonpartisan or that fall well short of an express endorsement of, or contribution to, a ballot initiative campaign may violate the prohibitions on political activity. Therefore, before members of the university community engage in an activity that implicates or appears to implicate these prohibitions, please contact a member of the Office of General Counsel for assistance.