The university encourages employees to have good professional relationships with state and federal elected officials and to be responsive to their questions and requests for information.University faculty and staff who work in communities around the state are particularly encouraged to have contact with public officials, including local legislators, so they know the nature of the university programs located in their legislative district and the assistance WSU can provide in addressing local needs.
However, many contacts with elected officials are considered by state and federal law to be official “lobbying” on behalf of the university. In these instances, there are restrictions and reporting requirements on public employees who engage in these activities.
The university’s Government Relations office is responsible, on behalf of the president, for assisting employees with any questions regarding contacts with state and federal officials or political activity, reporting official lobbying, and ensuring that information is provided to legislators accurately and timely.
Activities usually considered to be public lobbying under state law include most face-to-face meetings with legislators and their staff. Any employee who is lobbying on university time and/or has any expenses or informational materials prepared with funds controlled by WSU is also likely engaged in public lobbying. Other examples of lobbying include casual or scheduled conversations with legislators on behalf of the university or one of its programs while the employee is on the job and most testimony in Olympia before legislative committees.
Under some circumstances, conversations with employees that were initiated by the public official may be considered lobbying activities.
Federal lobbying contact is defined as “any oral or written communication to a … legislative or … executive branch official with regard to the formulation, modification or adoption” of federal legislation, rules, regulation, policies, programs, executive orders or the administration of a federal program (including federal contract, grant, license). Federal lobbying Activities are defined to include all “lobbying contact and efforts in support of such contacts, including the preparation and planning of activities, research and other background work that is intended at the time it is preformed for use in making such contacts, and coordination with the Lobbying activities of others.”
It is illegal for state employees to encourage other people and constituencies to contact state legislators for the purposes of supporting university positions on state legislation. Information on the status WSU issues and programs before the Legislature can and should be shared with grassroots constituencies. But it is NOT legal for employees working on behalf of WSU to urge citizens to “call your legislators” to accomplish a legislative goal for the university.
Contacting Government Relations in advance of a state or federal lobbying activity is required, and it may be necessary to officially report salary, travel, and expense information, the length and nature of the conversation, and any legislation that is being influenced.
As a matter of policy, university employees are discouraged from hosting legislators for meals,drinks, gifts, or entertainment, especially when state appropriated funds are involved. There are exceptions to this policy which should be discussed with the dean or supervisor and Government Relations.
WSU employees are not permitted to use university time or resources to promote, or encourage others to promote, state or federal funding proposals that are not an official budget request of Washington State University. This policy applies to telephone calls, electronic mail, letters, face-to-face conversations, and other official forms of university communication with legislators.
WSU employees are not permitted to use university time or resources to lobby for or against legislation, unless authorized by the university to represent these issues. This policy applies to telephone calls, electronic mail, letters, face-to-face conversations, and other official forms of university communication with legislators. This policy does not apply to providing factual information to public officials or answering questions.
WSU employees cannot legally use university time or resources to engage in partisan political activity. Public employees are also forbidden from campaigning for or against a ballot measure, except to comment on direct impacts to university programs.
ANSWERING QUESTIONS FROM LEGISLATORS
It is the responsibility of university employees to furnish timely answers to lawmakers and share with them the benefits of faculty education and research programs.
To assure completeness and accuracy of the answer from a university perspective, employees are strongly encouraged to check with Government Relations before completing the response to elected officials and their staff.
Statistics and financial numbers about the university must be checked for accuracy and consistency by the Budget Office. Government Relations can assist in that effort.
Release of research studies and findings before their publication should be discussed with the college or campus dean in advance.
Employees should recognize that their answers to questions might be regarded as “lobbying,” particularly if the answer is framed to persuasively affect legislation. If it is lobbying, it must be reported through the dean, Government Relations, and possibly to the state Public Disclosure Commission or federal authorities.
Conferring with Government Relations on legislative concerns is always advisable. Many of these contacts, by law, need to be reported to the state Public Disclosure Commission. The dean or administrator must be aware of such contacts in advance. The answers must be non-partisan. Factual information should be provided to all who request it. Information shared with advocates of point of view should be shared with advocates of apparently opposing views. The motives of elected officials or their staff should never be questioned.
PERSONAL OPINIONS EXPRESSED TO LEGISLATORS
WSU staff and faculty are entitled to personal opinions, including those contrary to university or college administrators. Neither WSU nor federal or state laws restricts an employee’s right to express personal opinions outside the workplace and without the use of university time or resources.
Employees are asked to recognize that it is hard for members of the public, including reporters and legislators, to differentiate between an official university position and a personal opinion. To many, individual faculty members and staff are the university.
For our employees’ own protection under state laws, employees should take care to stipulate to federal, state and local officials that their personal opinions expressed are their own and not necessarily those of their employer.
For the employees’ own benefit, employees are strongly urged to consult with the Government Relations Office. The concern is that if employees inadvertently cross into communication outside of the guidelines for a “personal opinion,” they and the university are subject to state lobbying laws, reporting requirements, and possible fines for engaging in illegal lobbying activity.
The above consolidated summary for contact with all public officials is based in part on the Washington State University Business Policies and Procedures for federal and state lobbying reporting. To read the federal policies, click here. To get the state policies, click here.
Information on Washington State and Washington Federal Public Officials
Residents of Washington are represented in the 110th Congress by 2 Senators and 9 Representatives.
Residents of Washington are represented in the Washington State Legislature by 49 Senators and 98 Representatives. Each district is served by one Senator and two House members. http://www1.leg.wa.gov/Legislature/AboutUs.htm