Guidelines for Political Campaigns and Ballot Initiatives
To the University of Michigan Campus Community:
July 12, 2010
Many members of the University community have asked about their rights and responsibilities regarding campaigning for or against a candidate or ballot initiative. We have developed the following information to help you understand the many activities in which you may engage as members of our campus community, as well as those that are restricted by law.
First, Michigan law does not in any way restrict individuals, including members of the University community, from participating fully in political activities, provided they are acting on their own behalf and using their personal time and resources. However, Section 57 of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act prohibits public bodies and anyone acting for a public body from using public resources to support or oppose a candidate or the qualification, defeat, or passage of a ballot proposal.
Thus, if public resources are not involved, faculty, students, and staff have great leeway to engage in political activities. Here are some examples of the kinds of activities that faculty, students, and staff may engage in as individuals on their own time, provided they do not use University resources and do not say or imply they are acting on behalf of the University:
- Donating money to support or oppose a ballot initiative or political candidate.
- Acting as a campaign volunteer by writing letters, making phone calls, knocking on doors, or distributing flyers in support of or opposition to a candidate or ballot proposal.
- Organizing or attending rallies in support of or opposition to a political candidate or ballot proposal.
- Writing letters to the editor or op-ed pieces supporting or opposing a political candidate or ballot initiative.
- Giving speeches and participating in debates for or against a particular candidate or ballot proposal.
- Writing to elected officials to express personal opinions on a candidate or ballot initiative.
Faculty, students and staff cannot, however, use public resources to engage in political activities for or against a candidate or ballot initiative. Here are some examples of those kinds of political activities, which are generally not permitted under Michigan law:
- Sending out a mailing using University stationery or postage or using a University-provided e-mail address to campaign for or against a ballot initiative or candidate running for office.
- Using a University copy machine to copy flyers supporting or opposing a ballot initiative or candidate.
- Conducting a political campaign from a University office or other University facility, or otherwise using University resources, such as a University-provided telephone, computer, e-mail address, etc., to conduct such a campaign.
- Purporting to carry on a political campaign in the name of the University.
The law includes several exceptions that permit limited use of public resources for certain political activities that would not constitute support for or opposition to a candidate or ballot proposal. Here are some examples of those kinds of activities, in which faculty, students, and staff may properly engage under the law:
- Conducting scholarly research on the effects of a ballot initiative on the University, on the state, on the economy, etc.
- Compiling and assembling data and other factual information on the effects of a ballot proposal or on candidates' positions.
- Disseminating factual material and/or the results of scholarly research on a ballot proposal to news organizations and academic journals.
- Posting factual material and/or the results of research on a ballot initiative to a University website.
- Planning conferences, forums, symposiums or panel discussions, or inviting guest speakers (including, in some circumstances, candidates) to campus, to discuss campaign-related issues.
It may be helpful to seek additional guidance to ensure that the above activities, if conducted using any University resources, do not appear to constitute support for or opposition to a candidate or ballot initiative. Further general information, including frequently asked questions and answers, has been posted to the University's website at http://www.vpcomm.umich.edu/guidelines/. Please direct additional questions to Maya R. Kobersy in the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel at (734) 764-0304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vice President for Government Relations
Vice President and General Counsel