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Political Activities of County Employees Concering Ballot Measures

General Rule

The General Rule applicable to political activities of public employees with respect to ballot measures is as follows:

"No restriction shall be placed on the political activities of any officer or employee of a...local agency." (Government Code Section 3203)

Restrictions

There are substantial exceptions to the above-stated General Rule:

  1. Use of Position to Influence Other Employees. An officer or employee of the County may not use his/her position to influence the political activities of other employees. (Government Code Section 3204)
  2. Solicitation of Contributions from Other Employees. An officer or employee of a local agency shall not, directly, or indirectly, solicit political funds or contributions, knowingly, from other officers or employees of the local agency or from persons on the employment lists of the local agency. Nothing in this section prohibits an officer or employee of a local agency from communicating through mail or by other means requests for political funds or contributions to a significant segment of the public, which may include officers, or employees of the local agency. (Government Code Section 3205)
  3. Participation in Political Activities in Uniform. No officer or employee of a local agency shall participate in political activities of any kind while in uniform. (Government Code Section 3206)
  4. Political Activities During Work Hours or on Premises. The Board of Supervisors may prohibit or otherwise restrict the following:
    1. Officers and employees engaging in political activity during working hours.
    2. Political activities on the premises of the local agency.
    To this date, the Board of Supervisors has not established such rules and regulations.
  5. Use of County Funds to Influence Election. As a general rule, the use of public funds or campaign purposes to influence voters in a pending election is prohibited (Mines v. DelValle (1927) 201 Cal. 273; Stanson v. Mott (1976) 7 Cal. 3d 206) absent clear and unmistakable authority to do so. There is no such existing statutory authority for a County.
  6. Nevertheless, a County does have the authority to use public funds for informational purposes to provide the public with a fair representation of relevant information relating to a ballot measure which the County has submitted to the voters (Stanson, supra, at 221).

    ".... a fair presentation of the facts will necessarily include all consequences, good and bad, of the proposal, not only the anticipated improvement ... but also the increased tax(e s) .... and other less desirable consequences as may be foreseen (Citizens to Protect Public Funds, The Board of Education (1953) 98 A.2d 673, 677).

    Frequently the line between unauthorized campaign expenditures and authorized informational activities is not clear.

    The following are examples of uses of funds, which are clearly campaign expenditures:

    1. County Payment of Salary or Expenses for Campaign Activity. Contributions by a governmental entity to a political campaign are per se illegal as gifts of public funds (FPPC v. Suitt (1979) 90 Cal. App. 3d 125; Cal. Const. Art. 16 S 6). This includes contributions in the form of payment of salary or expenses of county officers, employees, or agents while they are performing "campaign activities" as opposed to legislative, executive, or administrative functions (Suitt, supra at 130-131). The FPPC has adopted a regulation 2 Cal. Adm. C. S 18420) listing (but not exhaustively) activities which are "campaign activities." As such, the following activities are illegal per se:
      1. Arranging and coordinating a campaign-related event;
      2. Acting in the capacity of the campaign manager or coordinator;
      3. Soliciting, receiving, or acknowledging campaign contributions or arranging for the raising of contributions;
      4. Developing, writing or distribution of campaign literature or making arrangements for campaign literature
      5. Arrangement for the development, production or distribution of campaign literature;
      6. Preparing television, radio or newspaper campaign advertisements;
      7. Establishing liaison with or coordinating activities of campaign volunteers;
      8. Preparing campaign budgets;
      9. Preparing campaign statements; and
      10. Participating in partisan get out the vote drives.
      Nothing in the foregoing shall require the reporting of employees' campaign activities if such activities are performed on vacation time or other than during publicly paid working hours. Furthermore, the payment of salary or expenses by the County to an elected official shall not be an expenditure or contribution.
    2. County Funding of Campaign Materials, Advertisements, Literature, Etc. The use of public funds to purchase such items as bumper stickers, posters, advertising floats, or television and radio spots, unquestionably constitutes improper campaign activity. V Furthermore, utilization of County equipment, stationery, stamps, or other materials in support of a ballot measure campaign is prohibited.

Permitted Activities

The foregoing restrictions do not prohibit the following political activities of public employees:

  1. Right to Vote and Express Opinion. County officers and employees have the right to express their opinion and vote on ballot measures.
  2. Customary Political Activities. Activities such as making a political contribution, circulating literature, or wearing a campaign button are permissible activities for public employees if done in a time, place, and manner so as not to interfere with performance of their work.
  3. Use of County Funds for Fair Informational Purposes. County funds may be used for informational purposes to provide the public with a fair presentation of relevant information relating to a ballot measure, which the County has submitted in this respect:
    1. Information disseminated should not be illustrated with cartoons or other diagrams, which are reasonably susceptible to an interpretation, which advocates a position on a ballot measure;
    2. Information disseminated should avoid the use of imprecise, emotion-evoking terms such as "disastrous," "devastating," etc.;
    3. Information disseminated should be in the form of statements, which are factual and are presented in a manner, which does not distort or exaggerate;
    4. A county officer or employee, when requested by a public or private organization to do so, may attend a meeting of such organization to make a fair informational presentation.
    5. Factual information to be disseminated, if in compliance with the above guidelines, may be obtained from a document prepared by non-County sources. However, the County should not act as a distributor of leaflets, brochures or other publications prepared by non-County organizations.
    6. Individuals or bona fide organizations of citizens may obtain from the County all the facts gathered by the County pertaining to the issues of the election affecting the County and may, expending their own funds and using their own facilities, actively campaign for or against the ballot measure; and
    7. County facilities may be used by individuals or bona fide organizations of citizens under the rules and regulations adopted by the County for the use of its facilities, for the purpose of influencing the voters with respect to the ballot measure, so long as all sides of such ballot measure are treated equally under such rules and regulations.