Political Activities Policy

Policy number11-08
Responsible officeOffice of the Vice President of Government Relations
Enforcement officialVice President of Government Relations
ClassificationBoard of Trustees Policy
Category11. Federal and State Civil Protections

Statement of policy

It is the policy of Western Michigan University and its Board of Trustees to foster and encourage a wide variety of political views and to provide all political organizations and candidates equal access to University facilities. The freedom to speak and to listen are central conditions of a University and are inseparable parts of academic freedom. The appearance of political organizations or candidates on campus implies neither approval nor disapproval by the University of those persons, organizations or their views.

Summary of contents/major changes

Updating with recent legal changes and to conform to current Policy Review and Approval Process. Rescind and replace Employee Handbook Section 9; rescind and replace 1989 Political Activities Policy.

1. Purpose of Policy

This Policy has been established to outline parameters on WMU and WMU Community member communication and contacts with government officials, including participating in campaign and other political activities. This Policy is designed to maintain WMU’s tax-exempt status and comply with state and federal lobbying laws.  These laws prohibit the University and its employees, in their capacity as University employees, from participating in or intervening in any political campaign and prohibit University resources from being used in any way that could appear to endorse or support a political candidate.  This Policy does not apply to behavior individuals take in their personal capacity.

2. Stakeholders Most Impacted by the Policy

Any individual who wants to participate in or sponsor political activities on campus.  Any student or employee who wishes to run for political office.

3. Key Definitions

3.1. External Entity: candidates, campaign or political parties or organizations, not-for profits, and all other outside groups

3.2. Lobbying: any attempt to influence the action of any legislative body (e.g., Congress, state legislatures, county boards, city councils and their staffs) or any federal, state, or local government agency

3.3. Political Activity: activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.  Political Activities do not include issue-based events or causes that are not explicitly affiliated with a partisan political group.

3.4. Registered Student Organization (RSO): a student group that is registered with the Office of Student Engagement

3.5. University Resources: include but are not limited to the University’s name, logo, or other identifying mark; funds, facilities, office supplies, photo equipment, letterhead, telephones, fax machines, or electronic hardware; information technology resources such as email, websites, or social media; employee time

3.6. University Sponsor: University campus, school, department, or unit

3.7. WMU Community Member: Any individual who wants to participate in or sponsor Political Activities on campus.  Any student or employee who wishes to run for political office or work/volunteer for a partisan political campaign.  These include, but are not limited to alumni, student employees, faculty, etc.

4. Full Policy Details

4.1. Western Michigan University supports WMU Community Members’ right to personally engage in partisan political activities, partake in public policy debates, and voice their opinions. While all members of the University Community are free to express their political opinions and engage in political activities to whatever extent they wish, they must only do so in their individual capacities and avoid any appearance that they are speaking or acting on behalf of the University.  

4.2. As a public institution, WMU holds tax exempt status. In order to maintain this status, the University shall not participate or intervene in any political campaign and must prevent its resources from being used in any way that could appear to support a political candidate. The University shall not endorse any candidate for public office. Sensible judgment and due diligence should be exercised in arranging any activity that involves political activity. 

4.3. The University highly recommends that departments and units identify and appoint a single point of contact who is responsible for coordinating with the Office of the Vice President for Government Relations (OGR) on implementing this Policy. This can help facilitate notice requirements, lobbying reporting compliance, and discussions about appropriate political activity. If a point of contact is established, provide the individual’s name, position, and contact information to the Office of the Vice President for Government Relations.

4.4. Direct Participation in Political Activities by Individual WMU Community Members

4.4.1. WMU Community Members shall be free to participate in political activities on the national, state, or local level, such as running for political office, managing political campaigns, and assuming leadership roles in political organizations, provided that the participation does not prevent full discharge of their staff or academic obligations to the University. If such participation does prevent full discharge of the individual’s obligations to the University, the individual will be required to request a leave of absence for the period of the activity.

4.4.2. If participating in Political Activities, all WMU Community Members must distinguish between when they speak, write, or act in their personal capacity (including when they speak, write, or act on behalf of professional societies and other organizations) and when they speak, write, or act on behalf of the University’s interests.

4.4.3. Personal Political Activities must be clearly identified as the individual WMU Community Member’s personal views and not those of the University.

4.4.4. Subject to Section 4.4.1, a Faculty member who proposes to engage in Political Activities involving a substantial time commitment shall be required to inform the departmental chair, the college dean, and the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs.  

4.4.5. All other WMU Community Members who propose to engage in political activities involving substantial time commitment shall be required to comply with this Policy and shall inform OGR, which will consult with the employee’s supervisor(s).

4.5. Use of University Resources for Political Activities

4.5.1. University Resources must not be used when engaging in personal political activity. 

4.5.2. WMU Community Members may not use the University’s electronic resources (including email and social media) for advocacy on behalf of a candidate or political party.  

4.5.3. Hyperlinks to the websites of candidates or political parties shall not be placed on any University website or in an electronic signature on University e-mail in any manner that favors one candidate or political party over another, except in the course of the legitimate teaching, research, or service activities of an academic appointee (e.g., a political science class on third-party candidates; a Media School research project).

4.5.4. Unless as part of their official university duties, WMU Community Members may not use University email, campus mail, or University social media accounts to forward or otherwise distribute messages, invitations, solicitations, or campaign literature from or on behalf of a candidate or political party.

4.6. Voter Education Activities and Events

4.6.1. The University encourages WMU Community Members to exercise their constitutional right to vote, to actively participate in the political process, and to express their opinions regarding local, state, and national political candidates, issues, and referendums.

4.6.2. WMU Community Members may conduct certain voter education activities on campus or within University-controlled spaces as long as they are carried out in a non-partisan manner. For example, conducting public forums, non-partisan get-out-the-vote drives, and publishing voter education guides that cover a wide range of issues are allowed as long as the activities are not conducted in a manner that favors or opposes a single candidate or political party. See section 4.8, below, for guidelines regarding hosting events.

4.7. Communication and Contact with Government Officials

4.7.1. The Office of Government Relations (OGR) is the sole office charged and empowered to lead WMU’s advocacy and lobbying activities. Coordination with OGR is essential to maintaining professional working relationships with public officials, keeping the University’s messaging coherent and effective, and ensuring compliance with relevant and applicable laws.

4.7.2. Unless coordinated with OGR, any contact with government officials or governmental agencies may only be done in an individual, personal capacity or on behalf of a professional society. 

4.7.3. Individual University titles (such as an academic title) may be utilized as an identifier or to lend personal credibility. However, special care must be taken to clarify that any such communication is still being made in the individual’s personal capacity and that the individual is not speaking on behalf of the University. This is especially relevant for public oral statements, written/electronic communications, and publication bylines.

4.7.4. Prior to contacting or communicating with any government official or agency on behalf of a University interest, a department, unit, or individual must coordinate with OGR.  Contacts requiring coordination with OGR may include, but are not limited to: Individual or group meetings; Testimony before executive or legislative bodies; Presentation of written materials or electronic transmissions; Invitations to visit campuses; Campus events that include government officials, candidates for office, and state and federal political appointee; Responses to requests for information; or Contracts with state entities.

4.7.5. Special Considerations for Contact with Federal Officials In order to comply with federal law, the University may have to report its federal lobbying activities, such as issue-related advocacy with federal elected and appointed officials. Therefore, any proposed outreach on behalf of a University interest to covered federal officials, including all members of Congress and all congressional staff, must be coordinated with the WMU Office of Government Relations before the contact is made. This section of the policy is not intended to limit the personal rights of WMU Community Members to contact federal officials for their personal beliefs and issues, nor is it directed toward those contacts made on behalf of their professional societies as long as that representation is not in the name of Western Michigan University.

4.8. Events and Invitations

4.8.1. If a University-sponsored event includes an appearance by, or an invitation to, a government official, candidate, or political party, the sponsor of the event must notify OGR to ensure that the requirements of this policy are strictly observed.

4.8.2. No invitations on behalf of the University to a government official, candidate, or political party may be issued by an individual, department, or unit, without prior notification and coordination with OGR.

4.8.3. University-Sponsored Invitations and Events Elected officials, state and federal government appointees, and political candidates may be invited to speak on campus, including classroom visits. These events must be educational in nature and offered for that purpose in conjunction with the University’s public education mission.  These events must be coordinated through OGR. For candidate events, if one candidate is invited to speak at an event, the University must provide all legally qualified candidates or their representatives an opportunity to appear either at the same event or at a comparable event within a reasonable time period. Evidence of invitations and responses must be kept on file. If an invited candidate fails to respond after multiple invitations to the event, such should be noted in the file along with the invitations issued. An exception may be made for an elected official who is simultaneously a candidate for office, so long as the remarks are limited to official business related to the duties of the currently held elected office.  If the government official uses their visit to promote a political campaign or political party beyond the duties of the official’s current elected office during the event, then all legally qualified candidates or their representatives must be offered an opportunity to appear at a comparable event within a reasonable time period. The introduction of a candidate, government official, or political party at a University-sponsored event must be neutral and may not include any language that indicates or could appear to indicate that the University endorses or opposes any candidate, party, or organization in connection with this or any other political campaign or election. In cases where the individual candidates will appear in a conversational dialogue about issues, each candidate must have the same question format or topic presentation; same topics in both substance and number; same amount of time for discussion; same moderator for the event; and same physical setting or staging. The University may not co-sponsor or share the cost of a campaign event with an external entity.  An external entity may independently sponsor an event under Section 4.8.5. below. All expenses related to an event conducted pursuant to this section shall be borne by the sponsoring University unit(s).

4.8.4. RSO-Sponsored Invitations and Events An RSO may conduct a single-candidate or single-party event pursuant to this section; however, if any funding used to pay for the event originated from the University, the student organization must invite all legally-qualified candidates to participate in the event and follow the provisions of Paragraph 4.8.3. above. An RSO may hold a meeting or event that is closed to the general public and limited to student organization members. An RSO-sponsored event will be subject to the normal fees assessed to a student organization for facility rental and usage fees, if applicable, consistent with the Public Events Policy. Invitations to any event that is open to the general public and conducted on University property must be extended to all legally qualified candidates and follow the provisions of Section 4.8.3, above. RSOs must take appropriate steps to avoid the appearance of the University’s endorsement of or opposition to any candidate or party. RSOs, including the Western Student Association (WSA) and Graduate Student Association (GSA), shall not use any funding that originated from Western Michigan University to lobby for, support, or host an event on behalf of a candidate for public office or in a political campaign, either directly or indirectly.  However, RSOs may secure funding from an external source to sponsor such events.

4.8.5. External Entity-Sponsored Invitations and Events Consistent with the University’s Public Events Policy, external entities may rent or reserve space on University property for Political Activities, which may be either limited audience or general public events. An event sponsored by an external entity shall be subject to normal fees and charges assessed to external entities renting space with no discounts, preferential scheduling, other gratuities, or free or reduced rates for related services (such as security, sound systems, parking, broadcasting or web services, etc.), if applicable. If third party vendors are used for Political Activities on campus, external entities must directly pay the vendors for services rendered. WMU and WMU Community Members may not pay the vendors and seek reimbursement from the external entity. No exceptions to facility rental or reservation practices shall be made for Political Activities. External entities may rent or reserve only those University facilities that are regularly available for rent or reservation. If facilities are utilized by one candidate or political party, the same or substantially similar facilities must be made available to all other legally qualified candidates or political parties on equal terms and conditions, subject to any limitations on availability due to the scheduling of other events at the time a candidate or party makes a request. External entities that conduct Political Activities pursuant to this section shall take appropriate steps to avoid the appearance of the University’s endorsement of or opposition to any candidate.

4.9. Fundraising

4.9.1. Political fundraising on any University property, including through the use of the University’s technology resources is strictly prohibited.  

4.9.2. Individual University email accounts, campus mail, and University social media accounts may not be used by individual WMU Community Members to invite others to political fundraisers, whether on- or off-campus, whether hosted or sponsored by a candidate or political party, or whether hosted or sponsored by others in support of a candidate or political party.

4.9.3. Fundraising at University-sponsored Political Activities is prohibited regardless of whether the event is held on- or off-campus.

4.10. Use of University Name, Seal, or Symbol

The name of the University, any trademark, logo, and/or image depicting landmarks of the University, must not be used in connection with Political Activities.

4.11. Exceptions

This Policy is not intended to limit the personal rights of WMU Community Members to contact and engage with federal, state, or local officials on matters of personal belief or opinion, or to donate to political campaigns or causes as individuals. Similarly, this Policy is not directed towards contacts made on behalf of a professional society, as long as that representation is not in the name of WMU.  This Policy this does not compromise or impede an individual or group’s right to free speech under the First Amendment. See the Public Events Policy for ways to exercise those rights on campus.

5. Accountability

Failure to follow this Policy and any associated procedures may subject WMU employees to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from employment by the University, consistent with applicable procedures and Collective Bargaining Agreements or subject to students to Student Conduct proceedings.

Additional consequences for non-compliance include loss of the University’s tax-exempt status and related tax penalties, criminal fines, and/or jail time.

6. Related Procedures and Guidelines

Community Living Expectations
Public Events Procedures and Guidelines
RSO Handbook
BHC Public Events Procedures
Facility Use Agreement
Facility Use Requests
HR Handbook re: Requesting Leave of Absence 

7. Additional Information


8. FAQs

8.1. Question: Does this Policy prohibit voter registration drives or Get Out the Vote (GOTV) initiatives?

Answer: No. As long as the drives and initiatives are not intended to target voters of a particular party or to help particular candidates; nor should particular geographic areas be selected to favor any party or candidates.  Contact OGR to find out more about how to conduct a voter registration drive or GOTV efforts without compromising the University’s tax-exempt status.

8.2. Question: What should I do if a political candidate or party contacts me because they want to speak or campaign on campus?

Answer: Ask them to contact the Office of Government Relations.

8.3. QuestionAre RSO-sponsored events considered University-sponsored events, such that they would be subject to Section 4.8.3?

Answer: No. RSOs are separate from the University.  They are subject to the provisions of Section 4.8.4.

8.4. Question: Does supporting a political candidate in my e-mail signature block on my WMU e-mail violate this policy?

Answer: Yes. E-mail is a University resource. You are using university resources to advocate on behalf of a political candidate or party.

8.5. Question: May I put political campaign posters in my University office or wear political party/campaign gear while performing my official University functions? 

Answer: It depends. Your office is a University resource.  Posting political paraphernalia in your office would give the appearance that the University is supporting or sponsoring a political candidate or party.  Wearing campaign gear while speaking to a group as a University representative would not be appropriate because it could appear or imply that the University is sponsoring that individual or campaign.  

8.6. Question: Does this Policy apply to issue-based events, such as Black Lives Matter or Right-to-Life events?

Answer: No. Those events are not partisan political activities, so they are not covered by this Policy.  They would, however, be covered by the Public Events Policy and other University policies related to using University time and resources for outside activities and policies prohibiting the University appearing to endorse a private cause.

8.7. Question: If my research is based on political activity or the effects of a ballot initiative or political issue on the University, state, economy, etc., does this Policy mean I can no longer use University resources?

Answer: No.Scholarly works of that type are explicitly exempted from the Michigan campaign finance laws as long as you are not advocating for or against a particular issue or candidate. 

8.8. QuestionDoes using the University’s WebEx or other video conferencing platforms constitute use of university resources?

Answer: Yes.



Effective date of current versionNovember 23, 2020
Date first adoptedJune 23, 1989
Proposed date of next reviewNovember 2, 2023


Certified by

Jeffrey Breneman
Vice President of Government Relations

At the direction of

Jeffrey Breneman
Vice President of Government Relations