From President Shepard: Political Activity & Use of State Resources

Western Today staff

Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard sent the following message to all faculty and staff Thursday, Sept. 24:

Faculty, Staff, and Student Employees,

Every two years, as a state general electoral campaign looms, you receive a message from me strongly encouraging your political engagement but also advising you of the law as regards use of state resources to influence elections.

“State resources” includes wwu.edu email accounts and web pages, buildings and facilities (including windows in our offices), our time while “on the job,” and such.  And, “elections” includes elections for public office and ballot measures.

So why write to you now?  Although the next presidential, gubernatorial, and legislative election is still a year away, there will be candidates for local office on the ballot this year.  And Washington's robust citizen initiative process remains active.  You may already have observed the efforts of various groups gathering signatures and seeking to place ballot measures before the voters.  Get involved, by all means. 

But do understand that the prohibition on the use of state resources to influence elections extends to the process of trying to get measures on the ballot.  We have seen evidence on campus that not everybody knew this.

And, you do need to know.  The State of Washington takes these matters very seriously; in the heat of campaigns, there will be those poised to pounce on any perception that one of us has violated the law on these matters.  Such cases go before the State Ethics Board which does regularly impose fines.  And, we are prohibited from providing legal representation for our employees on matters before the Ethics Board.

That having been noted, nothing prohibits us from using state resources to provide a venue for political discourse, nor are we prohibited from using state resources to speak to the consequences of proposed ballot measures so long as we are not advocating a particular electoral result.  Indeed, I see Western being such a venue, and our actively applying our scholarship to the issues of the day, to be important obligations.

There are always gray areas.  For more information please visit the campus webpage on this topic.  Our legal counsel, Assistant Attorney General Roger Leishman, would also welcome the opportunity to address your questions.  He can be reached at 650-2050.

Best,

Bruce

Thursday, September 24, 2015 - 10:23am