Political Campaign Activities

Frequently Asked Questions

These FAQs are intended to provide general guidance to the University’s students, faculty and other employees regarding political campaign activities so that they engage in any such activities in a manner that is consistent with the restrictions placed on the University.  For the purpose of these FAQs, the “University” refers to the University of San Diego and to the College, the Schools, and any other University division, department or unit.

Are there limitations on the University’s activities in connection with political campaigns and political candidates? 

Yes.  As a tax-exempt organization, the University is prohibited from engaging directly or indirectly participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office at any level (federal, state, or local).

Are voter education activities or voter registration drives permitted? 

Yes.  Members of the University community are encouraged to be active and informed participants in the electoral process.  The University may conduct certain voter education activities, such as public forums, voter registration, and voter training programs, as long as they are carried out in a non-partisan manner.

Can University resources and facilities be used in connection with political campaign activities?

University resources and facilities cannot be used or made available to political candidates or political campaigns on a partisan basis.  While not intended to be an exhaustive list, the following are examples:

  • The University’s name, seal, letterhead, logos or other trademarks may not be used in any manner that suggests or implies support for or opposition to any candidate for political office.
  • University office space, administrative support, mail distribution services, email accounts, telephone systems, computers, copiers, other information technology resources, or mailing lists may not be used in any manner that suggests or implies support for or opposition to any candidate for political office.
  • University funds (including but not limited to student fees) may not be used to purchase promotional material, pay for campaign ads, or contribute in any way to a political campaign.  Nor may such funds be used to pay honoraria or to cover transportation, accommodation or meal expenses, or any other costs for candidates for public office or for speakers or presenters at an event on behalf of a candidate for political office.
  • Information may not be posted or otherwise displayed, nor may hyperlinks be included, on a University-administered website or web page that is in support of or opposition to a particular candidate for public office.
  • University property may not be used for the placement of signage of any kind (including but not limited to flyers, posters, banners, stickers or chalking) in support of or opposition to a candidate for public office.  (Individual student rooms in the residence halls are not subject to this restriction.)

I am an employee of the University. Am I allowed to participate in political campaign activities?

Employees may engage in political campaign activities in their individual capacities. When doing so, they must clearly indicate that their actions and statements are their personal views and that they are not speaking or acting on behalf of the University. 

If an employee chooses to engage in personal political campaign activities, the activities should occur outside of their normal work hours for the University. If the employee receives approval from his or her supervisor to participate in private political campaign activities during what would typically be the employee’s normal working hours, the employee must use vacation time or take leave without pay to do so and the activities must occur off campus without the use of University resources or facilities.

In addition, employees should only use their personal email accounts (not sandiego.edu accounts) and stationery for the distribution of any communications in connection with their personal political campaign activities.

Are there restrictions on conducting fundraising activities for a particular candidate?

Yes.  Funds, donations, or other contributions in support of or opposition to a candidate for public office may not be solicited in the name of the University, nor may University facilities or other resources be used for such purposes.

My department would like to invite a candidate to speak on campus.  Is this allowed?

Subject to certain limitations, the University may invite candidates to speak on campus, provided that the opportunity to speak is provided on an equal basis to all legally qualified candidates for office.  Before extending any such invitation, University Communications should be contacted. The guest’s appearance should constitute a speech, a question and answer session, or other similar communication appropriate for an academic setting. Such programs must be open to all members of the University community regardless of their political affiliation, may not be held in connection with any campaign-related events, and are not to be conducted as campaign rallies.

My department would like to invite a well-known public figure to speak on campus, but that individual also happens to be a candidate for political office.  Is this permitted? 

A candidate may be invited to speak on campus in a non-candidate capacity.  In these circumstances, the organizer should clearly mention the capacity in which the speaker is appearing, and the individual should be chosen to speak solely for reasons other than his or her candidacy.  There should be no reference to the individual’s candidacy or the upcoming election, and the atmosphere of the event should be nonpartisan. Campaigning at the event is not permitted. 

I am teaching a class and would like to require my students to participate in a political campaign so that they can learn about the electoral process. Is this allowed?

To further the educational experience, some courses at the University may require or allow students to participate in a political campaign of the candidate of their choice.  The faculty member should not influence a student’s choice of candidates, and no student should be required to participate in a campaign for a candidate or cause that the student does not support.

Are student organizations allowed to engage in political campaign activities?

Registered student organizations may use University facilities to conduct organizational meetings or to host, sponsor or publicize an event on behalf of a candidate.  The student organization must pay the usual fee, if any, for the use of University facilities for the event. Other University resources may not be used in connection with the event, as more fully discussed above.  Fundraising may not occur at or in connection with the event. 

If the candidate or a representative of the candidate will appear, the appearance should constitute a speech, a question and answer session, or other similar communication appropriate for an academic setting. Any such event must be open to all members of the University community regardless of their political affiliation, may not be held in connection with any campaign-related events, and is not to be conducted as a campaign rally. 

At the beginning of the event and in any written advertisements for the event, the student organization must communicate that the event is sponsored by the student organization, that the speakers are presenting in their personal capacities and not on behalf of the University, and that the University does not endorse or oppose any candidate.

Faculty or other administrative advisors to student organizations must take care to avoid the appearance of institutional endorsement and to observe the principles described in these FAQs.

Who should I contact if I have other questions about permissible or impermissible political campaign activities?

If you have questions, please contact the Office of the General Counsel or University Communications.

October 2016