• Guidelines for Political Activity

    Office of the General Counsel

    BACKGROUND

    As an organization exempt from federal income tax pursuant to Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Monmouth University is prohibited from directly or indirectly participating or intervening (including the publishing or distributing of statements) in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elective public office. Even activities that encourage people to vote for or against a particular candidate on the basis of nonpartisan criteria are prohibited. According to the IRS, whether an organization is engaging in prohibited political campaign activity depends upon all the facts and circumstances in each case.

    POLICY

    A. While the University encourages students and employees to exercise their civic duty by registering and voting, and further encourages political debate and discussion, the University prohibits the use of University resources to support partisan political efforts. In addition, University policy prohibits the following.

    1. Employees are not permitted to utilize University resources to support political candidates. This includes the use of University letterhead, postage, e-mail accounts, message boards, or other University resources.
    2. Employees should not post political statements (e.g., bumper stickers) on University-owned vehicles or uniforms.
    3. No one is permitted to release the names of University employees or students to an outside party, including but not limited to providing such lists for political purposes.
    4. Campaign contributions on behalf of the University are not permitted.

    B. If candidates are invited to campus, equal access must be granted to all parties. For additional information, see the University’s policy on Campaign-Related Activities and Political Advertising for Student Employment.

    C. If you have any questions regarding this matter, contact the Office of the General Counsel.

    PERMITTED ACTIVITIES

    As a representative or on behalf of the University, you may:

    1. engage in certain voter education activities, including the presentation of public forums and the publication of voter education guides, conducted in a non-partisan manner;
    2. engage in voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, if conducted in a non-partisan manner; and
    3. invite a candidate to speak as a political candidate at the University if equal opportunity is afforded all political candidates officially on the ballot seeking the same office and no support or opposition is shown the candidate and no political fundraising occurs.

    PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES

    While you may engage in the following activities as a private citizen, you may not, as a representative or on behalf of the University, engage in any of the following activities:

    1. endorse any candidates for political office;
    2. make donations to political campaigns;
    3. engage in political fundraising;
    4. distribute statements in support of particular political candidates or parties;
    5. engage in voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives with bias that would favor one candidate over another, oppose a candidate in some manner, or have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates;
    6. invite a political candidate to speak as a political candidate at the University without affording equal opportunity to all political candidates officially on the ballot seeking the same office; or
    7. become involved in any other activities that may be beneficial or detrimental to any political candidate.

    PENALTIES

    A. If the IRS finds that the University has engaged in prohibited campaign activity, the University could lose its tax-exempt status and could be subject to an excise tax on the amount of money spent on that activity.

    B. In cases of flagrant violation of the law, the IRS has specific statutory authority to make an immediate determination and assessment of tax. The IRS can also ask a federal district court to enjoin the University from making further political expenditures.

    C. In addition, contributions to organizations that lose their section 501(c)(3) status because of political activities are not deductible by the donors for federal income tax purposes.

    SPECIFIC SITUATIONS

    A. Forums

    1. Organizations may sponsor debates or forums to educate voters; however, if the debate or forum shows a preference for or against a certain candidate, it becomes a prohibited activity.
    2. When an organization invites several candidates to speak at a forum, it should consider the following factors:
      1. whether questions for the candidate are prepared and presented by an independent nonpartisan panel;
      2. whether the topics discussed by the candidates cover a broad range of issues that the candidates would address if elected to the office sought and are of interest to the public;
      3. whether each candidate is given an equal opportunity to present his or her views on the issues discussed;
      4. whether the candidates are asked to agree or disagree with positions, agendas, platforms or statements of the organization; and
      5. whether a moderator comments on the questions or otherwise implies approval or disapproval of the candidates.
       

    B. Invitations to Speak

    1. An organization may invite political candidates to speak in a non-candidate capacity. For instance, a political candidate may be a public figure because he or she:
      1. (a) currently holds, or formerly held, public office;
      2. (b) is considered an expert in a non-political field; or
      3. (c) is a celebrity or has led a distinguished military, legal, or public service career.
       
    2. When a candidate is invited to speak at an event in a non-candidate capacity, it is not necessary for the organization to provide equal access to all political candidates. However, the organization must ensure that:
      1. the individual speaks only in a non-candidate capacity,
      2. neither the individual nor any representative of the organization makes any mention of his or her candidacy or the election, and
      3. no campaign activity occurs in connection with the candidate's attendance.
       
    3. In addition, the organization should clearly indicate the capacity in which the candidate is appearing and should not mention the individual's political candidacy or the upcoming election in the communications announcing the candidate's attendance at the event.

    C. For additional information, see the University’s policy on Campaign-Related Activities and Political Advertising for Student Employment.

    Original Issue Date: February 5, 2007