Political Activities: A Reminder About the "Dos" and "Don'ts" for City Officials and Employees

To protect the integrity of the government and the electoral process, there are rules that restrict certain political activities of City employees and officials. While City employees and officials are not prohibited from engaging in political activities, laws do exist to safeguard public resources, ensure the government remains nonpartisan and neutral in election matters, and protect City employees from pressure to support or oppose candidates or ballot measures.

With the fall election season underway, and the 2007 City elections just around the corner, it is a good time to review the laws that govern those political activities in connection with any federal, state or local election.

City officials, including appointees, and employees may not:

  • Use or authorize the use of City offices, stationery, telephones, vehicles, equipment or any other City property for any campaign activity, including fundraising, for or against a candidate or ballot measure. (The term "ballot measure" is intended to include a bond measure.)

  • Engage in fundraising or other campaign activities during hours for which they are paid by the City to engage in City business.

  • Knowingly solicit contributions for or against a political candidate or ballot measure from any City officer or employee. This includes employees and officers who are on a leave of absence. (Soliciting a contribution from the spouse of a City officer or employee is permissible so long as it is not a subterfuge for soliciting the City employee.)

  • Receive, deliver, or attempt to deliver a political contribution in City Hall, any City office building, or in any office for which the City pays the majority of the rent.

  • Participate in political activities while in uniform.

Note: The law does not prohibit a City officer or employee from soliciting contributions from other City officers or employees to promote the passage or defeat of a ballot measure that would affect the rates of pay, hours of work, retirement, civil service or other working conditions. The law, however, does prohibit such activity during working hours and in City offices.

In addition, the following rules also apply to General Managers and members of City boards and commissions:

  • No member of a City board or commission, and no General Manager may solicit, direct or receive a contribution from any person who has a legislative or administrative matter pending before him or her, or from any person who has had such a matter pending during the preceding 12 months.

  • No member of a City board or commission who is required to file a Statement of Economic Interests may fundraise for any elective City officer, candidate for elective City office, or any City committees controlled by the elective City officer or candidate. This ban includes fundraising for any City campaign, officeholder, legal defense fund, or City ballot measure committee. For purposes of this provision, the following fundraising activities that are specifically prohibited:

    • Requesting, either orally or in writing, that another person make a contribution;

    • Inviting a person to a fundraising event;

    • Supplying names to be used for invitations to a fundraising event;

    • Allowing your name, signature or title to appear on a solicitation for contributions or an invitation to a fundraising event;

    • Providing the use of your home o business to hold a fundraising event;

    • Paying for a least a majority of the costs of a fundraising event;

    • Hiring another person to conduct a fundraising event;

    • Delivering a contribution, other than your own, either in person or by mail in a manner in which you communicate your identity to the elective City officer, candidate for elective City office, or any agent of these persons; or

    • Acting as an agent for intermediary in connection with the making of a contribution. (LAMC Sec 49.7.8 C)

City officials and employees may participate in the following activities:

  • Perform volunteer work, endorse candidates, and take a position on a ballot measure, as long as these activities do not involve the use of City property, facilities, or equipment, and are not performed during hours for which the individual is paid to engage in City business. (Paid campaign work during "non-City hours" -- like other paid outside employment -- is permissible with the prior written approval of the individual's appointing authority.)
    Remember: When endorsing any candidate or ballot measure, City officials and employees should make clear that they are acting as individuals and take steps to avoid giving the impression that the City supports the candidate.

  • Use their own funds to make political contributions, subject to applicable laws.

  • Solicit, to the extent permitted by City law, political contributions from persons other than City employees on behalf of candidates or ballot measures. (Remember, however, that City board and commission members, and General Managers, however, are subject to the prohibitions noted above.)

  • Provide unbiased, balanced, and factual information about the purposes, provisions and estimated impact of bond issues and ballot measures. (Remember, however, that the City may not spend public money to urge the passage or defeat of any ballot measure.)

So How Do These Restrictions Work in Practice?

Example: Use of City time

Charlene Cheerful, of the Department of Transportation, decides to support her neighbor in his campaign for City Council by helping to organize fundraising events. While she attempts to handle all the arrangements from home in the evenings, she soon finds it necessary to make and receive calls during the workday to coordinate volunteers, professional fundraisers, and caterers, etc. Charlene's supervisor tells her she must either find a way to do the volunteer work on her own time, or adjust her work schedule. Charlene obtains approval to use her vacation time so she can come in to work a couple of hours late for several mornings in order to handle the campaign activity from home.

The point: Charlene and the supervisor acted appropriately by prohibiting the use of City time to do campaign work.

Example: Use of City computers

Doug Dogood takes a leave of absence from his City job to manage his wife's campaign for City Council. A number of co-workers urge him to let them know how they can help. Before her first rally event, he e-mails them at work to let them know when and where it will be and asks them to let other people know. Several of his co-workers forward the e-mail to others in the department.

The point: Doug and his co-workers have misused the City's computers and e-mail system for campaign purposes.

Example: Use of City vehicles

Chase Chief o' Staff works for an incumbent Councilmember who is running for re-election. After regular business hours, Chase jumps into his assigned City-owned vehicle to attend a political debate at which his boss will speak.

The point: Chase has misused a City resource for a political purpose. While elected officials may use their City cars for personal and City business, non-elected officials may not.

Example: Solicitation of contributions from City employees

Doug mails invitations to a fundraising dinner to several of his co-workers. Charlene mails invitations to a fundraising dinner to several co-workers but includes an insert noting that they are invited to attend by paying the cost of the meal only and are not being solicited for a contribution.

The point: Doug has committed a violation by knowingly soliciting City employees for contributions. Charlene did not violate the law because she made it clear the invitation was not a solicitation for a contribution.

Example: Ballot/bond measure activity

Cory Councilmember and the entire City Council vote to support a bond measure. Cory, who is also running for re-election, directs her campaign staff to prepare and distribute a press release indicating her position on this issue.

Ron Rule, Cory's Council aide, receives a call from a constituent who requests information about the bond measure. Ron provides the constituent with copies of the analysis and the arguments, both pro and con, which will appear in the sample ballot guide and suggests the constituent also contact local civic organizations which may have information on the measure. In addition, when asked, Ron states that the Councilmember is supporting the ballot measure.

Otto Bounds works in a City department that will receive additional funding if the bond measure is approved. Otto obtains a list of neighborhood associations throughout the City and, as requested by his supervisor, begins sending out information supporting the bond measure to the neighborhood associations. In addition, Otto goes to several neighborhood meetings on his own time to talk about the need for the bond measure.

The point: Cory Councilmember has not used City resources for campaign purposes. (Elected officials are permitted to take and voice a public position on any issue affecting their constituency, but may not use public funds to support or oppose a measure.) Ron Rule has abided by the law in providing factual and balanced information to a constituent and in response to the constituent's question, information about his boss' position on the issue. Otto's supervisor should not have asked Otto to put together the association list and the mailing. Otto may spend his own time speaking in support of the measure so long as he uses no City resources to do so.

Example: City commissioner fundraising ban

Hallie Host, a Harbor Commissioner, is asked to get involved with the committee for the re-election of her friend Councilmember Busy. The campaign committee would like to list Host's name as an "endorser" on fundraising solicitations. Host explains that under City law she is prohibited from engaging in such fundraising activity and therefore, her name may not appear on fundraising solicitations. Host further explains that her name may appear as an endorsement on other, non fundraising-related literature, but if her name is used, she requests that her City commissioner title not be included to avoid any perception that that the government is endorsing the candidacy. She also says that she can work on phone banks or walk precincts as long as she is not asking for contributions.

The point: Commissioner Host is taking all precautions to avoid violating City law.

** If you have any questions about how these political activities restrictions might apply to you, please feel free to contact us at the Commission for advice. We can be reached at (213) 978-1060, and we look forward to assisting you! **

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