Use of State Resources: Political Campaigns

During an election cycle state employees, as any other citizen, are likely concerned about how the election outcome will affect our country, our state and the ability to take care of ourselves and our families. Taking part in the political/electoral process is grounded in our Constitution and is the hallmark of a free, open and fair society.  As citizens and state employees there are rules that we need to know.  

The Ethics in Public Service Act, specifically in RCW 42.52.180 Use of public resources for political campaigns, covers employees obligations about this topic and states that state employees may not use or authorize the use of state resources to support or oppose a ballot proposition or a candidate for public office.  Additionally, this provision also prohibits an employee’s “knowing acquiescence” of another employee’s use of resources that violates this section. A supervisor may violate the law if he or she is aware of a subordinate’s use of state resources that violates this section but fails to take action to stop the use.

The following activities would likely violate the Ethics in Public Service Act:

  • Making a speech or writing a letter to the editor that supports or opposes a political candidate or ballot proposition during working hours and using your state supplied computer.
  • Using your work hours to obtain signatures, raise funds, or engage in any other activity to campaign for or against a candidate or ballot proposition.
  • Using any state facility or property to campaign for or against a candidate or ballot proposition – even if it is not used during working hours.

However, the Act does recognize and allow the following activities and likely do not violate the Ethics in Public Service Act:

  • Using your personal time to campaign for or against a candidate or ballot proposition.
  • Contacting other agency employees, away from the office, to circulate a petition or solicit funds. However, managers should avoid soliciting from their subordinates.
  • Wearing a campaign button, t-shirt or other item like a candidate’s name on your coffee mug. 

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The Executive Ethics Board enforces the Ethics In Public Service Act, RCW 42.52. The Board has jurisdiction over statewide elected officials and state employees in the executive branch; including boards and commissions and institutions of higher education.

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