Political Use and State Resources
In election years, questions invariably are raised regarding whether WSU employees may engage in certain types of political activities. The Ethics in Public Service Act strictly prohibits any use of state resources for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of a person to an office or for the promotion or opposition to a ballot proposition. RCW 42.52.180(2). That portion of the Ethics Act provides:
No state officer or state employee may use or authorize the use of facilities of an agency, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of a person to an office or for the promotion of or opposition to a ballot proposition. Knowing acquiescence by a person with authority to direct, control, or influence the actions of the state officer or state employee using public resources in violation of this section constitutes a violation of this section. Facilities of an agency include, but are not limited to, use of stationery, postage, machines, and equipment, use of state employees of the agency during working hours, vehicles, office space, publications of the agency, and clientele lists of persons served by the agency.
Additional regulations related to the use of public resources for political campaigns may be found in BPPM 60.90, BPPM 10.21, RCW 42.17.130, RCW 42.52.160, and WAC 292-110-010. While RCW and WAC are the foremost rules regarding ethical conduct, here are a few recommendations to help you make good decisions this campaign season:
- De minimis use exceptions do not apply to political activities This means that even a brief political e-mail or phone call on state time or with state equipment/or resources is prohibited.
- Individuals with the authority over other persons, such as supervisors, or with control over facilities, have a duty to halt such person’s use of state resources for political activities. Knowing acquiescence in such use is itself a violation of the Ethics Act.
- If you send e-mail related to a candidate for office or ballot proposition, send it from your home e-mail address, from your home computer, on your own time. Also, do not send political endorsements or other campaign materials to other employee’s state (WSU) e-mail 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.
- Make sure your personal campaign activities do not interfere with your official duties or the official duties of any other state employee.
The last (and best) recommendation is to know the law. Ignorance cannot be used as a defense for legal or ethical violations. The Washington Executive Ethics Board has additional information on this subject at its web site at pages 21 and 40 of the Ethics Manual: www.ethics.wa.gov/files/2006%20training%20manual%201-22-07.pdf.
For concerns, or more information, please contact the WSU Office of Internal Audit for assistance, firstname.lastname@example.org, 335-2001.