I. Purpose and Scope
Northeastern University is committed to the free flow of ideas and opinions, and encourages its students, faculty and staff to vote and participate in civic discussions and the democratic process. As a tax-exempt, nonprofit institution, however, the university is prohibited under federal tax laws from direct involvement in political campaign activity and may not endorse or oppose candidates for political office or contribute money, goods or services to political campaigns. This policy addresses those prohibitions and their practical implications for faculty, staff, and students.
This policy applies to all students, faculty and staff, as well as to volunteers when acting or participating on behalf of the university. The policy and any guidelines published by the university regarding involvement in activities related to ballot initiatives and campaigns for public office are based upon IRS rulings concerning nonprofit corporations and other applicable judicial decisions and laws.
For purposes of this policy,
A. Political Campaign Activity means activity, including oral or written statements and financial or in-kind support, that is directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for election in a partisan political campaign for public office, a partisan political group, or ballot initiative.
B. Ballot Initiative, also called, “ballot question,” “ballot measure,” “popular initiative,” “voter initiative,” “citizen initiative,” “proposition” or just “initiative,” is a means by which a petition signed by a certain number of registered voters can bring about a public vote on a proposed statute or constitutional amendment.
C. Political campaign means a race between candidates for elective office, or other organized effort towards a particular election result, including for ballot initiatives.
D. Lobbying means influencing or intending to influence a Member of Congress or their staff, a State or local Legislator or their staff, or certain local, state and federal government agency staff and leadership.
E. Fundraising means soliciting contributions for political candidates, campaigns, or ballot initiatives.
F. Endorsement means public statements of opinion and/or contributions, monetary, in-kind, or otherwise, to political campaigns.
It is the policy of the University not to intervene, through endorsement or otherwise, and not to participate, either directly or indirectly, in partisan political campaign activity. When faculty and staff participate in political campaigns, that activity must be conducted in their personal capacity.
A. Government Relations
As Northeastern University continues to expand nationally and globally, it is important that we maintain a “one university” approach to contact with key government officials and offices.
All contact with elected officials, and other senior government officials, on behalf of the university must be coordinated through the Division of External Affairs. This coordination is essential to prevent confusing and disconnected interactions between the university and our government partners. External Affairs encompasses city, state, and federal government relations across the U.S. and in Canada and the UK.
- For U.S. federal government officials: Contact the Vice President for Federal Relations
- For U.S. state governments: Contact the Assistant Vice President for External Affairs
- For City of Boston officials: Contact the Vice President for City and Community Engagement
- For other government officials, including municipal government, or officials in Canada or the United Kingdom, the activity must be coordinated with External Affairs.
B. Use of University Facilities and Resources
Students, student organizations, faculty, and staff may participate in political activities on their own time and without the use of university resources, such as phone, web pages, email, fax or mail. In addition, they may engage in nonpartisan activities, including training and/or educational programs, voter registration drives, and debates designed to increase public awareness and encourage participation in the electoral process. It also may be permissible to provide political candidates opportunities to speak at the university and/or to rent facilities for political events, provided these are on the same terms as those afforded nonpolitical events, within the university’s guidelines, and approved by the Division of External Affairs; and the opportunity would be made available to all candidates for that office under substantially similar terms and conditions.
Providing university resources to a political candidate or cause is prohibited. This includes such items as mailing lists, university letterhead, university marks and logos, web pages, telephones, computers, copy machines, and office or other space. Fundraising, campaign endorsements, public statements of position, and/or contributions to political campaign funds made by or on behalf of the university are strictly prohibited.
This also includes the posting of signs on university property showing support for a particular candidate or initiative, the use of the name or seal of the university on materials intended to support a political candidate or initiative (such as campaign video or advertisements), and the inclusion of a university office/address as the return mailing address for campaign fundraising for a candidate or ballot initiative. The university may not sponsor or host events to promote or advance the candidacy of a particular candidate or ballot initiative.
C. Students and Student Organizations
The Office of Student Affairs must be made aware of all student-based political activities on campus. This includes any requests to invite political candidates or elected and appointed officials to any of Northeastern’s campuses. In addition to this policy, Northeastern has policies and procedures relating to political rallies and demonstrations in the student handbooks. Northeastern is dedicated to preserving the rights of members of the university community to express their views and to protest, but all demonstrations must be peaceful, orderly, and abide by university procedures.
D. Faculty and Staff
University employees may participate in political campaigns of their choosing, off-hours, or on vacation time, so long as the activity is neither in the name of the university nor at the direction or requirement of a university official and does not use university resources. In addition, if a member of the faculty or staff wishes to seek public office, they must work with the Office of the General Counsel to determine if a plan can be developed for such activity that complies with university guidelines and applicable law.
E. Lobbying Rules
Under state and federal lobbying laws, the university must document certain interactions with elected officials, their staffs, and state and federal agencies. Therefore, students, faculty, or staff who wish to lobby on behalf of the university must first seek approval from the Division of External Affairs in order to verify that such lobbying activities are in compliance with state and federal laws. Members of the Northeastern community may lobby government officials regarding issues of personal interest to them on their own time and without the use of university name or resources.
IV. Additional Information
This policy cannot address every specific situation that might arise. Members of the university community with any questions about their participation in political activities should consult with the Office of Student Affairs, the Office of General Counsel, or the Division of External Affairs. Failure to comply with this policy can result in severe penalties to the institution, and to those who violate the policy.
Political Activity; Political Campaign; Politics; Fundraising; Ballot Initiatives; Lobbying
Last Revision Date: January 17, 2023
Issued: March 4, 2014