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Ethics Compliance Compliance and Civil Rights

Political Campaigns

Public Resources and Campaigns

RCW 42.52.180 – Use of public resources for political campaigns

(1) 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.

(2) This section shall not apply to the following activities:

(a) Action taken at an open public meeting by members of an elected legislative body to express a collective decision, or to actually vote upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, or ordinance, or to support or oppose a ballot proposition as long as (i) required notice of the meeting includes the title and number of the ballot proposition, and (ii) members of the legislative body or members of the public are afforded an approximately equal opportunity for the expression of an opposing view

(b) A statement by an elected official in support of or in opposition to any ballot proposition at an open press conference or in response to a specific inquiry. For the purposes of this subsection, it is not a violation of this section for an elected official to respond to an inquiry regarding a ballot proposition, to make incidental remarks concerning a ballot proposition in an official communication, or otherwise comment on a ballot proposition without an actual, measurable expenditure of public funds. The ethics boards shall adopt by rule a definition of measurable expenditure;

(c) The maintenance of official legislative web sites throughout the year, regardless of pending elections. The web sites may contain any discretionary material which was also specifically prepared for the legislator in the course of his or her duties as a legislator, including newsletters and press releases. The official legislative web sites of legislators seeking reelection or election to any office shall not be altered, other than during a special legislative session, beginning on the first day of the declaration of candidacy filing period specified in RCW 29A.24.050 through the date of certification of the general election of the election year. The web site shall not be used for campaign purposes;

(d) Activities that are part of the normal and regular conduct of the office or agency; and

(e) De minimis use of public facilities by statewide elected officials and legislators incidental to the preparation or delivery of permissible communications, including written and verbal communications initiated by them of their views on ballot propositions that foreseeably may affect a matter that falls within their constitutional or statutory responsibilities.

(3) As to state officers and employees, this section operates to the exclusion of RCW 42.17A.555.


Ethics in Public Service, RCW 42.52 does not prohibit lobbying or supporting a campaign as a private citizen. However, if an employee chooses to participate in these activities they must do so in their own time, using their own resources and making it clear that the employee is not representing WSU. Use of state resources to support or oppose candidates or ballot measures is prohibited for these efforts. State resources include, but are not limited to, your office and office equipment, computing devices and network, stationary and postage, state phone, your time and time of other staff during working hours.

Lobbying is defined in RCW 42.17A.005

Lobby” and “lobbying” each mean attempting to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation by the legislature of the state of Washington, or the adoption or rejection of any rule, standard, rate, or other legislative enactment of any state agency under the state administrative procedure act, chapter 34.05 RCW. Neither “lobby” nor “lobbying” includes an association’s or other organization’s act of communicating with the members of that association or organization.


Best Practices and Considerations

While RCWs and WACs are the foremost rules regarding ethical conduct, following are a few recommendations to help you make good decisions this and all campaign seasons:

  • De minimis use exceptions do not apply to political activities. This means that even a brief political email or phone call on state time or with state equipment or resources is prohibited. If you want to support a position or candidate – do not email from WSU email account, network or through private account on WSU computer with messaging that communicates or implies support (or opposition). Even one email is enough for a violation.
  • Individuals with the authority over employees (such as supervisors) or with control over facilities, have a duty to halt employee use of state resources for political activities. Knowing acquiescence in such use is itself a violation of the Ethics Act.
  • If you send email related to a candidate for office or ballot proposition, send it from your home email address, from your home computer, on your own time. Also, do not send political endorsements or other campaign materials to other employees’ state (WSU) email 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. Using work hours (yours or others at your direction) to solicit signatures for ballot propositions, to raise funds for or against such propositions, or to organize campaigns for or against such opposition is prohibited.

Workplace displays of support or opposition of political candidates and ballot proposition should not be excessive and may be prohibited:

  • Displaying political material in or on publicly owned vehicles is prohibited.
  • Prudence should apply in displaying campaign material on publicly owned or operated premises, other than designated open/public spaces. Wearing campaign buttons on clothing is a personal expression and does not violate the Ethics in Public Service Act. The use of personally assigned space at a workstation probably meets the same requirement. The answer might be different if an employee were using publicly visible space, such as a wall or reception desk, which could leave the impression that the agency supports a campaign.

There are limited activities excluded from these prohibitions:

  • Activities that are the normal and regular conduct of your office.
  • A statement by an elected official in an open press conference, in response to a specific inquiry or incidental remarks in an official communication or for which no actual, measurable expenditure of public funds is made.
  • De minimis use of public facilities by an elected official incidental to the preparation or delivery of permissible communications.

Distribution of news articles or editorials: the University is ordinarily free to distribute press clippings that relate to its mission. However, while an election is pending or an initiative is being circulated for signature, the University may distribute only those newspaper articles and editorials that do not tend to support or oppose a candidate for public office, or a ballot initiative, or referendum.

Generally speaking, administrators are in the public eye and should be cautious about wearing political information or displaying political information in or around their offices. A primary concern is the avoidance of situations where it might appear that an employee is speaking on behalf of the University.

Compliance with the state ethics law is the personal responsibility of each state employee. Additional regulations related to the use of public resources for supporting political activity may be found in BPPM 60.90, BPPM 10.21, RCW 42.52.160, WAC 292-110-010, and WAC 292-110-020 (definition of ‘working hours’).