Election Season: State Employee Political Activity (FAQ’s)
While each election is a matter of great importance to each of us as both residents of our community and employees of TWU, please keep in mind as employees of an agency of the State of Texas, all TWU employees are prohibited from using state resources and state time to conduct political activities or engage in political advertising. To ensure that each employee understands the limitations of conducting political activity or advertising, we have generated this short FAQ's page for your convenience.
Is TWU considered a state agency?
Yes. Section 556.001 of the Texas Government Code, which governs the conduct of public entities and agencies in political campaigns, includes “a university system or an institution of higher education” as defined by the Texas Education Code, as a state agency for purposes of political activity. Therefore, because TWU is an institution of higher education, we are considered a state agency of Texas.
What is considered “political activity” and “political advertising”?
Any time a person advocates (promotes) or opposes a political candidate or issue, he or she is engaging in political activity. If a person provides a written or broadcast communication that promotes or opposes a particular outcome in an election, he or she is engaged in political advertising. However, if a person is only supplying factual information about a candidate or issue, then this is not considered political activity or advertising. Be careful that the information is factual information that can be verified by another outside source. Also, be careful that you are not expressing an opinion as to the advantages or disadvantages of a particular issue or candidate along with the factual information. In that instance, you WOULD be engaging in political activity or advertising. Even a slogan that states, “Show That You Care About Our Future” is considered political activity and therefore violates the law.
What items are considered “state resources”?
Under Section 255.003 of the Texas Election Code, activity by a TWU officer or employee to “spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising” is a Class A Misdemeanor. Additionally, any item or thing of value owned or paid for by TWU is considered a state resource. This includes any type of supplies, copiers, the internal mailing or email system, TWU vehicles, or funds under TWU control. None of these items may be used to advocate or oppose a political candidate or issue. If an employee chooses to engage in political activity, he or she must use his or her own resources to do so.
The prohibition on the use of TWU equipment and property to advocate for or against a political candidate includes, but is not limited, to the following:
- the use of TWU computers,
- knowingly using or authorizing the use of the TWU internal mail system, including emails for the distribution of political advertising,
- the use of TWU telephones, and
- the use of TWU fax machines and paper.
What is considered “state time” or “work hours”?
Anytime you are “on the clock” for your designated work hours, you are prohibited from engaging in political activities. For example, if you are at work between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, you are prohibited from engaging in political conduct. Nor can a supervisor or any other TWU official authorize or use an employee to engage in political activities during his or her work hours. For example, a supervisor cannot require that you make telephones calls on behalf of a candidate, address campaign mailings, or send campaign literature by email while you are at work at TWU. If an employee chooses to engage in political activity, he or she must use his or her vacation or personal leave time to conduct the activities. Keep in mind, however, that even if you are using your own vacation or personal leave time, the political activity cannot be done using TWU facilities or resources.
The following are examples of permissible election activities by TWU employees on their own time and using their own funds in exercise of their constitutional free speech rights:
- assisting in voter registration drives;
- expressing opinions about candidates and issues;
- contributing money to political organizations;
- attending political fundraising functions;
- attending and being active at political rallies and meetings;
- joining and being an active member of a political party or club;
- campaigning for or against candidates in partisan elections; and
- making campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections.
What happens if I engage in political activity or advertising while at my job or if I use TWU-owned property to conduct political activity?
Violation of this law is considered a Class A misdemeanor, subject to criminal prosecution. Additionally, the Texas Ethics Commission may levy fines against a person for violation of the law. Finally, you may be subject to disciplinary action by TWU, up to and including termination, for engaging in this conduct.
May I go vote during my work hours?
All employees are encouraged to vote in all appropriate local, state, and national elections. Employees are asked to vote early or before or after working hours. However, when it is not possible for an employee to vote before or after his/her regular working hours, the university allows for a reasonable period of time off during the regular work day for voting on an official election day.
Does TWU release my contact info to Political Action Groups?
As an employee of TWU if you have elected to keep your contact information confidential, TWU will not release your information to any member of the public or organization, absent a valid court order or mandate by the Texas Attorney General. Conversely, political action groups and other related organizations often purchase voter registration lists and other lists from agencies that are not subject to the same rules as TWU.
Where can I find more information?
You can find out more information about prohibitions against political activity and advertising at the following locations:
- Texas Government Code
- Texas Ethics Commission: A Short Guide To The Prohibition Against Using Political Subdivision Resources for Political Advertising in Connection with an Election
- Texas Ethics Commission: A Guide to Ethics Laws for State Officers and Employees
- Texas Attorney General Publication: 2012 Texas Ethics, Gift & Honorarium Laws Made Easy (PDF)
(see Misuse of Government Property Statutes, p.8)
TWU encourages its employees to actively participate in the political process; however, please do not use TWU resources or your work hours to do so.