V401.03 STATE FACILITIES OR EQUIPMENT FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES

The following statement is from SBHE attorney Pat Seaworth, April, 1999 (informal communication to President Chaffee):

There is a state statute that specifically prohibits use of state facilities or equipment for political purposes. Prohibited are activities such as campaigning for or supporting candidates or parties. This statute does not restrict use of those facilities by public employees to provide information to or to attempt to influence legislators on matters germane to their duties. However, state law (and board policy) also restrict use of state facilities or equipment for personal or private purposes. Employees should not use those facilities or equipment to lobby legislators on those matters. As you might imagine, it is difficult to draw a clear line between public or work related issues and other issues.

It is certainly okay for the chancellor, presidents and other employees assigned responsibility for legislative matters to use state facilities and equipment in connection with any legislation that impacts NDUS institutions, including legislation affecting state employee compensation. The same goes for faculty, other staff or student representatives of groups constituted by the board or institutions who are delegated that responsibility, including representatives of the CCF, faculty and staff senates, NDSA or student government, and NDUS faculty or staff salary committees. However, use of state facilities or equipment by state employees, acting on their own behalf, to lobby for salary increases, may not be appreciated by legislators. Such use may not be a clear violation of law or policy, but it is at least arguable that it is prohibited.

Use of laptops may be different. As I understand your policies, although laptops are assigned staff and faculty primarily for job related purposes, you permit a little bit more flexibility because of the equipment's portability and impracticality of forcing employees to switch from a university machine to a personal machine depending on the nature of the use. For example, it is impractical to require staff to switch from their university machine to a private machine just because they want to send a personal message to a friend rather than a work related message to a colleague. Nevertheless, there is a risk of adverse reaction by legislators if university laptops are used by employees lobbying for themselves for salary increases.

My recommendation is that you advise employees that they should not use state facilities or equipment to lobby legislators on matters that are not job related, including state employee salary increases (except for employees delegated that responsibility).

Pat Seaworth