Campus Political Activity and Engagement with Federal Officials

Campus Political Activity and Engagement with Federal Officials

Duke University encourages all students, faculty and staff to be active and engaged citizens, and to participate fully in the political life of the community. However, in so doing, it is also important to keep in mind the legal guidelines that govern political activity on campus.

As a non-profit, tax-exempt entity, Duke must abide by federal and state laws prohibiting the use of its facilities, services or personnel to promote or support individuals or organizations campaigning for public office. These laws prohibit Duke University, and any of its related entities, from contributing to or supporting political candidates or parties. Simply put, no Duke resources – including personnel, e-mail accounts, copiers, office space, vehicles or publications – may be used for political purposes.

The restrictions on political activity do not apply to any employee acting as an individual, on their own time and using personal resources. Understanding the basic rules helps promote vibrant discussions on campus about candidates and political issues without violating the law.

The following guidelines are designed to address the most common questions about political activity by Duke employees. If you do have issues or concerns not noted below, we encourage you to seek clarification from your supervisor, department chair or directly from the Office of Public Affairs and Government Relations.

Employees Speaking Out on Political Issues. A Duke faculty member or employee who is identified (by themselves or others) with their Duke title or affiliation when speaking or writing at campaign events or in campaign‐related publications, advertisements, fundraising requests, websites, blogs, email and social media posts must take care to indicate that their comments are purely personal, neither part of their Duke responsibilities nor made on Duke’s behalf, and do not represent the views of the University. A disclaimer noting that titles and affiliations are provided for identification purposes only, and that any views expressed by the individual are his/hers alone and do not reflect the views of Duke University or any of its constituent institutions should be added to the material. In addition, faculty and staff should take care to only use personal e‐mail, social media or other online accounts (and not duke.edu accounts or other Duke electronic resources) for the distribution of campaign messages, petitions and similar material.

Employee Involvement in Political Campaigns. Federal law prohibits Duke University from raising funds for a political candidate or political party. This prohibition includes using Duke funds, facilities, personnel, email addresses and systems, social media or any other resources for partisan political activities. In addition, employees may not use the University seal, letterhead, symbols, logos or other identifiable marks of institutional affiliation (including images of Duke buildings) to endorse or promote political parties, campaigns or candidates. Duke funds cannot be used to reimburse individuals for political donations, and no employee can implicitly or explicitly require any Duke employee to make a political contribution. Watch out, too, when referencing web pages, social media or the like –a link to only one candidate’s online information on a Duke website or other electronic media may be interpreted as favoring a particular candidate. Faculty and staff who advise campaigns or candidates on policy or strategic issues may do so but must do so on their own time, be explicit in communications that they do not represent the University in this regard, and should at all times use only their personal email address, social media or other resources.

Candidate Appearances on Campus. Candidates for political office may speak on campus at the invitation of the University or recognized student- run organizations affiliated with the University as long as:

  • Duke actively provides equal speaking opportunities to political candidates seeking the same office;
  • Duke, as an institution, does not indicate any endorsement, support or opposition of the candidate (this should be stated explicitly when the candidate is introduced and in announcements of the candidate’s attendance);
  • No political fundraising occurs; and
  • The appearance is a speech, a Q&A session, or a similar format typical of an educational activity at an academic

Duke can host a debate as long as it does not endorse, support, or oppose political candidates, questions are prepared and presented by a non-partisan and independent panel, and all candidates for the office are invited to participate.

Invitations from Faculty Members or Academic Units. Faculty members may reserve facilities for educational activities involving political candidates provided the appearance furthers the educational or academic mission of Duke in accordance with the policy regarding the use of University facilities found in Appendix S of the Faculty Handbook. Fundraising on campus is not permitted. Faculty members need to take special care to follow the above guidelines for candidate appearances and to avoid the appearance of institutional endorsement or support.

Invitations from Student Groups. Recognized student organizations may use facilities for partisan political purposes or for political forums in accordance with this guidance and the policy on use of University facilities found in Appendix S of the Faculty Handbook.

Use of Duke Facilities by Outside Groups. Duke’s facilities are normally not made available to outside groups. When outside use is permitted, the facility must be reserved on a contract basis and a fee will be charged. For more information, see this guidance and the policy on use of University facilities found in Appendix S of the Faculty Handbook and/or call the Office of Government Relations.

Events Open to the Public. Candidates can visit campus without an invitation at events open to the public, but fund-raising is not permitted.

Press Conferences. Press conferences or similar on-campus events for a political candidate are generally prohibited. Questions about specific events and requests should be directed to the Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations, 919.681.3788.

Policy on Pickets, Protests and Demonstrations. Please keep in mind Duke’s policy on pickets, protests, and demonstrations, found in Appendix V of the Faculty Handbook.

Visits to Campus by Congressional and Federal Executive Branch Officials
Members of Congress, executive branch officials, state government leaders and staff frequently visit Duke’s campus as part of their official duties, to learn about Duke programs and issues, attend public events, and to speak to classes and student groups. The University supports and encourages such visits as an important way to provide policy makers with a greater understanding of issues that impact our students, faculty and staff and as an opportunity for our faculty and researchers to serve as a general resource to government officials on a variety of pressing national and international matters.

Duke must follow the rules that govern gifts to and visits from any government officials. The rules are complex, cover even the smallest items (including food and drink) and can sometimes seem illogical; they must be followed, however, and violations can result in civil and criminal penalties for individuals and the institution. I strongly urge you to review the basic guidelines below and to alert my office of your intentions before issuing invitations to officials who may be covered by these laws. Also, note that as a general rule Duke is not permitted to pay honoria (cash or in-kind contribution) to federal, state and local government officials for speeches, guest lectures or serving as a panel at a conference.

We are fully prepared to offer you advice and guidance on how to manage within these guidelines.

Members of Congress and Staff. The expenses of members of Congress and their staff traveling to Duke are generally covered by the government. If a Duke department wishes to pay for such travel, or is asked to do so by the official or their staff, the action must be approved in advance by the appropriate congressional ethics committee, and the Office of Government Relations must have a written copy of the authorization.

Generally, members of Congress and their staff should not accept any gifts from Duke or its employees, although there are a few exceptions, such as for items of nominal value (t-shirt, pens or baseball caps), light food and refreshments, attendance at widely attended events including meals, honorary degrees and awards, books, invitations to charitable events, and gifts based on personal friendship. Members of Congress and staff cannot receive free or discounted tickets to any Duke athletic event; they must purchase tickets at face value.

Executive Branch Employees. Similar to congressional officials, executive branch employees (members of the cabinet and employees of government agencies) are subject to many restrictions on gifts and travel. These officials generally cannot accept any gifts, though there are certain often-used exceptions for attendance fees, food and refreshments served at a “widely attended” event, and for subsistence and related expenses for training, meetings, conferences and speaking engagements that relate to the employee’s official duties. In some instances, travel expenses can be covered by Duke, but in most cases, the executive branch employee’s expenses must be covered directly by the government.

In order for any of the above items to be provided or paid for by Duke, the government employee must receive approval from the appropriate agency official (typically an ethics officer). A copy of that approval should be obtained by Duke and submitted to the Office of Government Relations before any items are provided or reimbursements or payments are made.

Honoring or Recognizing a Member of Congress, Executive Branch Official or Staff. If a member of Congress or executive branch official is honored or recognized at an event sponsored by Duke, then Duke must report the entire cost of the event as a lobbying expense. Broadly defined, if the official is given an honorary degree, award or a plaque, you must document the costs related to the event (chair rental, audio visual, food, security, etc.) and provide a report to the Office of Government Relations in order for Duke to comply with the LDA. I also ask that you let the Office of Government Relations know in advance of any invitation to an official to accept an award or honor, as prior government approval may be required in some cases.

State Officials. Like many other states, North Carolina has a series of ethics and lobbying laws that significantly increase the state’s regulation of various interactions between Duke personnel and “covered” state officials, including candidates for public office, legislators, and judicial officers. Information regarding these interactions can be found here.  This document provides general information about many important aspects of these laws, such as “gift” provisions, as well as general guidance regarding common Duke interactions with state officials that may be subject to state ethics and lobbying laws. Please notify the Office of Public Affairs and Government Relations if you plan to invite state government officials to speak on campus or to attend events.

Lobbying. Duke personnel engaged in a broad range of government interactions involving Duke, on Duke’s behalf, or using Duke resources, may be subject to heavy and complex state and federal regulations, including certain prohibitions and/or registration and expense reporting requirements. Thus, Duke community members who are considering any government interaction or advocacy involving Duke, on Duke’s behalf, or using Duke resources, should consult the Duke’s lobbying policy as well as with the Duke government relations professionals referenced in the policy.