As a non-profit, tax-exempt entity, Duke must abide by federal and state laws regarding political activities, specifically prohibiting the use of its facilities, funds, services, personnel or other resources to support or oppose individuals or organizations campaigning for public office.
Please note that the Duke policies and guidelines outlined here apply specifically to Duke faculty, staff and contractors. This webpage does not address every possible situation or constitute legal advice. Rather, it summarizes certain longstanding University guidance, policies and practices, as well as federal and state law regarding – among other things – permissible political activity on campus, lobbying and visits to campus by congressional and federal executive branch officials and state officials. Please contact the appropriate Duke University federal, health or state government relations office with questions about any specific situations.
Students and student groups are also strongly urged to consult with the Duke University Office of Government Relations, Duke Health Office of Government Relations or with Duke State Relations when planning major events or engagements involving government officials or political candidates, particularly when those events take place on campus and in Duke facilities.
Eligible members of the Duke community are encouraged to vote in elections and can find information on how to register to vote in Durham by visiting the Durham County Board of Elections website. Check here for more information on location and times. POLIS: The Center for Political Leadership, Innovation, and Service at the Sanford School of Public Policy (POLIS) is an additional resource for students and members of the Duke community interested in voter registration efforts and non-partisan political engagement.
All employees who are eligible to vote in Durham County are urged, when available, to use on-campus early voting. Supervisors are encouraged to be flexible with scheduling to enable staff members who are unable to vote outside normal work hours to do so before, during or after their assigned shifts.
More information about absentee ballots and applications, as well as information for NC voters registered outside of Durham County, is available on the State Board of Elections website.
Employee Involvement in Political Campaigns
All Duke faculty members and employees who are identified (by themselves or with others) using their Duke titles or affiliations when speaking at campaign events or writing in campaign-related publications, advertisements, fundraising requests, websites, blogs, email and/or social media posts must clearly 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 should be added, 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.”
Faculty and staff who volunteer for or advise campaigns or candidates on policy or strategic issues may do so only on their own times, must be explicit in communications that they do not represent the University in this regard. In addition, faculty and staff should only use personal e-mail, social media or other online accounts at all time (and not duke.edu accounts or other Duke electronic resources) for the distribution of campaign messages, petitions and similar material. Duke Zoom and other university accounts should not be used for convening or attending political meetings, events or fundraisers.
Involvement in Political Contributions and Endorsements
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. Any contact information (telephone numbers, emails or addresses) for employees, students or alumni is also prohibited to be shared or used for such 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 other Duke employee to make a political contribution.
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 the guidance and the policy on use of University facilities found in Appendix S of the Faculty Handbook and/or call either the Office of Government Relations or Duke State Relations, as appropriate.
Press conferences or similar on-campus or virtual 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
Duke’s policy on pickets, protests and demonstrations, found in Appendix V of the Faculty Handbook here.
Visits to Campus by Elected and Appointed Officials and Candidates for Office
Faculty members and academic units may invite elected and appointed officials and political candidates or their representatives to participate in educational activities provided the appearance furthers the educational or academic mission of Duke in accordance with the policy regarding the use of University facilities/resources found in Appendix S of the Faculty Handbook. Sponsors of these events need to take special care to follow these guidelines for candidate appearances and to avoid the appearance of institutional endorsement or support.
Specifically, 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 they follow these guidelines: Duke 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; the appearance is a speech, a Q&A session or a similar format typical of an educational activity at an academic institution; questions are prepared and presented by a non-partisan and independent panel or individual; and all candidates for the office are invited to participate.
In addition, Duke University welcomes and encourages elected and appointed government officials (federal, state, local and international), and candidates for office, to speak to members of the university community and participate in events outside of class.
All invitations and appearances need to comply with Duke University policies, as well as applicable laws, regulations and government ethics policies. Events that include these individuals should further the educational or academic mission of Duke. This guidance is applicable to all Duke-sponsored campus-based events, whether in-person or virtual, held off-campus (i.e., symposiums, receptions, meetings) or in a government facility.
Before an invitation is extended or accepted, members of the Duke community should contact Duke State Relations regarding participation of state officials from North Carolina and the Duke University Office of Government Relations about federal officials and all others from outside the state, for further guidance and assistance.
Rules involving gifts, honoraria and travel
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.
Individuals and groups hosting visitors are strongly urged to review the basic guidelines below and to alert the Office of Government Relations or Duke State Relations 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 honoraria (cash or in-kind contribution) to federal, state and local government officials for speeches, guest lectures or when serving on a panel at a conference. The Offices of Government and State Relations are fully prepared to offer advice and guidance on how to operate 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.
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.) must be documented and a report must be provided to the Office of Government Relations in order for Duke to comply with the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). Duke groups planning to invite an official to accept an award or honor should let the Office of Government Relations know in advance of the invitation, as prior federal government approval may be required.
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 on the Duke State Relations website. The resources provide 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. Groups planning to invite state government officials to speak on campus or to attend events should notify Duke State Relations first.
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 Duke’s lobbying policy, as well as with the Duke government relations professionals referenced in the policy.