As we enter the political season, the Washington State Executive Ethics Board has provided tips regarding political campaigning.

Additional Information:


  • The Ethics in Public Service Act states that no state officer or state employee may use or authorize the use of facilities of an agency, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of a person to an office or for the promotion of or opposition to a ballot proposition.
  • Knowing acquiescence by a person with the authority to direct, control, or influence the actions of the state officer or state employee using public resources for political campaigning is also a violation.
  • “Facilities” is broadly defined and includes agency office space and working hours. It also includes voice‐mail and e‐mail on state phones and computer systems. Personal clothing and personal vehicles, however, would not be considered an agency facility. Therefore, the Ethics Act would not absolutely prohibit an agency policy that permits wearing typical political buttons on an individual’s clothing or affixing a political bumper sticker to a personal vehicle. If employees interact with the public they are urged to exercise caution because wearing political buttons while interacting with the public or displaying political signs in public areas, could result in prohibited campaigning or violate their agency policy.

Prohibited activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Using work hours to solicit signatures for ballot propositions, to raise funds for or against propositions or candidates, organize campaigns for propositions or candidates.
  • Displaying political material in or on state vehicles.
  • Displaying or distributing campaign material on state owned or operated premises. (This does not include property considered to be a “neutral open forum,” which is public property open to all expression that is protected under the First Amendment).

Employees may campaign for or against a ballot proposition or candidate on their own personal time (this includes authorized leave time), away from the office.

Hypothetical situations provided by the Washington State Executive Ethics Board for your consideration:

1. One of your employees brings a petition to work opposing a controversial ballot proposition. After spending the morning gathering signatures around the office, she reaches your desk. She asks you to sign the petition, arguing that state workers will lose their jobs if the measure passes. What do you do?

ANSWER: Stop the activity. Under RCW 42.52.160 and .180 the use of state resources is prohibited to campaign for the election of a person or a ballot initiative. Under RCW 42.52.180(1), knowing acquiescence by a person with authority to direct, control or influence the actions of the state officer or employee using the resource in violation of the Act, constitute a violation – so you could be the one getting in trouble if you take no action to stop the activity.

2. Fred, a classified employee, has a fixed schedule of 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday. During the heated campaign for city dog catcher, Fred often stays until 8 or 9 p.m. making telephone calls or sending e-mails on behalf of his candidate using agency equipment. Violation?

ANSWER: Yes. Even though it is after hours, Fred cannot use any state resources (phone, e-mail) for any type of political campaign.

3. Lori, a state employee, is excited about the presidential elections coming up and feels very passionate that her friends need to vote. She sends 20 e-mails from her work the day before elections to urge people to “get out and vote” and encourages people to vote for her candidate. One of her friends, Sam, is a co-worker and gets the e-mail. Sam doesn’t say anything to his supervisor about it. Violation on Sam’s part?

ANSWER: Yes. You can violate the ethics law if you see the use of public resources for political campaigns and do not act to stop it. Both Lori and Sam could get an ethics penalty. Or, in Lori’s case, 20 citations because she sent 20 e-mails.

For more information or if you have questions, the following may be of assistance:

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