Guidelines for Political Campaigns and Ballot InitiativesUniversity of Michigan

Frequently Asked Questions

updated June 28, 2012


May I conduct research on the impact of a ballot or campaign proposal?
Yes. Conducting and reporting on research is an integral part of our academic mission, and state law does not prohibit that.

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May I post the results of my research to a University website?
Yes, in the same way you and other researchers post such information on a variety of research topics every day. However, a University website may not direct others to vote a particular way in a candidate or ballot election.

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Am I allowed to invite speakers to campus to discuss a ballot proposal or other issues being discussed as part of an election campaign?
Yes, as long as you follow standard University policies to use campus facilities. These policies ensure that all sides are given the opportunity for equal access.

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I’m part of a student organization. Is my group allowed to invite a guest speaker who is a political candidate or who will be speaking about a ballot proposal or other campaign issue, using funding provided by the University for student groups?
Yes, as long as your proposed activity complies with student organization funding guidelines. University funds are allocated broadly across student organizations in a manner that is viewpoint-neutral.

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Can I hold fundraising events for particular candidates or ballot proposals on-campus?
No, this kind of fundraising is not permitted on-campus. You could hold campaign fundraising events off-campus, as long as you do not: 1) use University resources to do so, or 2) otherwise state or suggest University involvement in that fundraising event.

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May I organize a conference to discuss ballot proposals or campaign issues, either on- or off-campus?
      If your conference is solely educational, you can hold it on- or off-campus and can use University resources to organize it.
      If your conference amounts to a campaign event for or against a candidate or ballot proposal, then you cannot use University resources for your conference.
      If your conference amounts to a campaign event, but University funds will not be used and no fundraising will occur, you could hold your event on-campus, provided you follow standard policies on use of University facilities.

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I have been invited as a panelist to discuss a campaign issue; may I participate?
Yes, as long as you do not say or imply as a panelist that you are representing the official views of the University.

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May individuals and organizations hold campaign-related events in University facilities?
It is natural for candidates and political campaigns to want to visit campus and engage the University community, and state law generally allows it. Candidates and ballot question committees must follow the University’s standard procedures for use of University facilities, and may not engage in fundraising on campus. These policies ensure that all sides are given the opportunity for equal access, and are intended to avoid the misperception that an on-campus campaign-related event indicates University support or endorsement.

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I heard an interview on Michigan Radio (WUOM/WVGR/WFUM) with a guest who was voicing a strong opinion about a ballot proposal. Are University-owned media allowed to publish or broadcast interviews about campaign topics?
Yes. State law clearly recognizes the rights of the media, including University-owned media, to do all of the things the media outlet typically does in an election year, including interview candidates, host debates and call-in shows, provide commentary, publish op/ed pieces, and report news stories on the election.

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May I sign a letter to the editor or other communication on an election issue with my name and University affiliation?
Certainly you can send a letter to the editor using your name. Whether it is appropriate to give a University affiliation depends on the circumstances. As a general matter, it is inappropriate in a non-work-related setting to state or imply you represent the University, and giving an affiliation may have that effect. The best way to avoid even an implication that you are writing on behalf of the University is not to include your affiliation. Another alternative is to include a disclaimer that your title or position is given for identification purposes only and does not indicate University support for or endorsement of the views you are advocating.

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May I use my University office to campaign, provided I don’t say I am representing the University?
No. That would be use of a University resource (namely, the office itself) to promote a candidate or ballot initiative in violation of state law. The same prohibition would apply if you were using another University resource, such as a University-provided computer or a University-issued cell phone, to campaign for or against a candidate or ballot proposal.

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Does the University provide its listserv or e-mail groups to individuals or organizations for the purpose of disseminating campaign-related messages?
No, the University neither supplies nor approves of the use of its e-mail groups for communications about campaign-related issues.

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Are there different rules for students than for faculty and staff?
No. However, the Campaign Finance Act restrictions on use of public resources in political campaigns apply to public bodies “and individuals acting for a public body.” It is therefore important to look at the context when determining whether an individual was acting on behalf of the University.

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May I wear a campaign button to work?
Probably, but it depends on the circumstance. You do not give up your First Amendment rights when you work at the University. In your individual capacity, therefore, you may fully engage in the political process by, among other things, wearing political buttons. If, however, you are wearing a political button and you say, or if the context implies, that you are acting on behalf of the University, that may violate the Campaign Finance Act. It may not be appropriate, for example, to wear a campaign button during a speech to a group in which you are serving as a representative of the University because this could appear to imply University endorsement of the particular campaign that you are supporting.

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I am a University employee. May I encourage colleagues or others to vote, without advocating a particular position?
Yes, as long as you are not advocating for or against a particular candidate or issue. The president, deans and others periodically encourage members of the University community to vote, and that is acceptable and even appropriate. The University has long valued political engagement, and voting is just one way to engage in the political process.

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Why is President Coleman able to speak about ballot proposals or other campaign-related topics in her public speeches, editorial board visits, etc.?
An exception to the restrictions in the Campaign Finance Act applies to the expression of views by an elected or appointed public official with policy-making responsibilities. The president of the University falls within this exception, which means that President Coleman may state her views, orally or in writing, on campaign-related issues.

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What are the penalties for violating the laws about participating in a political campaign?
It is a misdemeanor to knowingly violate Section 57 of Michigan’s Campaign Finance Act. The law is enforced by the Michigan Department of State, which may also refer matters to the State Attorney General for enforcement of criminal penalties. Individuals who knowingly violate this law are subject to a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment of up to one year or both. Also, if U-M resources are used illegally, the University could be fined $20,000, or an amount equal to the value of the resources used, whichever is greater.

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Does the Michigan Campaign Finance Act apply to lobbying activities?
No, the Michigan Campaign Finance Act does not itself address lobbying activities. However, federal and state lobbying laws, as well as IRS regulations, do set requirements for lobbying and specifically limit lobbying activities by organizations like the University. The University has adopted a policy addressing lobbying activities by its employees to help ensure compliance with these legal requirements. For more information regarding the University's policy on lobbying by faculty or staff, please see http://www.provost.umich.edu/faculty/handbook/9/9.F.html.
For more information regarding the federal lobbying laws generally, please see http://www.govrel.umich.edu/ethics_rules.html.

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Do these campaign guidelines apply to me if I am not a U.S. citizen?
Yes, the guidelines regarding when it is or is not appropriate to use University resources in connection with a political activity do apply to you, regardless of your citizenship. However, as a non-citizen, there are additional limitations that apply to your personal campaign-related activities. For more information about those limitations, please see the Federal Election Commission website at http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochures/foreign.shtml.

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How can I get more information or responses to specific questions?
Contact Maya R. Kobersy in the Office of the General Counsel, phone 764-0304 or e-mail mkobersy@umich.edu.

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