As a non-profit institution whose activities are regulated by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Case Western Reserve University is prohibited from participating or intervening in any political campaigns for candidates of public office. To ensure compliance with this legal requirement, student organizations must abide by the following guidelines when engaging in political activity at the university.
Candidate on Campus
Student organizations may sponsor political candidates on campus for the purpose of educating the university community on the candidates' aspirations, agenda, or political beliefs. If a student organization wishes to sponsor a political candidate on campus, the following criteria must be fulfilled:
- The candidate's appearance must have an educational purpose. The candidate should address topics that cover a broad range of issues that are of interest to the public. The organization should take every effort to ensure the candidate's appearance includes an opportunity for questions and answers. Questions from the event moderator should be phrased in a neutral manner, and not in a manner that would suggest support of or opposition to a particular candidate.
- The hosting student organization must preface all pre-event publicity with the explicit statement that the candidate is not affiliated with the university, and that the views expressed are the views of the candidate and not of the university, and that the university does not endorse this or any other candidate in connection with this or any other political campaign or election.
- The same statement must also be made to the audience by the event host immediately before the candidate's appearance.
- At events with multiple candidates for the same office, the hosting student organization must give each candidate an equal opportunity to present his or her view on each of the issues discussed and may not offer commentary approving or disapproving the candidates' answers or statements.
- Candidates for a political position must have an equal opportunity to speak at the university. Thus, if a student group sponsors a voter education event involving one candidate, the university must offer other candidates the opportunity to appear at a comparable event. For this reason, it is important for the university to be aware of all events involving political candidates. Student groups should notify the Director of Student Activities and Leadership (SAL), Colleen Barker-Williamson, Office of Student Activities, about such events.
Candidate Invited to Campus in Non-Candidate/Political Capacity
Student organizations may invite political candidates to speak on campus in a non-candidate or non-political capacity. For example, a political candidate may be invited to speak on campus because he or she is considered an expert in a non-political field, is a celebrity, or has had a distinguished career. If a candidate is invited to speak on a topic unrelated to his or her candidacy, the individual should make no reference to the election. There can be no campaigning or partisan activity at the event. The university and the student organization must not mention or endorse the individual's political candidacy. The student group should it make clear at the event the reason why the person was invited (e.g., because of his expertise in X, because of her career as a Y).
Political Campaigning and Fundraising
The university is not permitted to participate in or intervene in any campaign activity for or against political candidates. Student organizations may not use campus facilities or resources, including the campus mail service, campus email, campus mailing lists, university-provided office supplies, computers, telephones, and facsimile machines to solicit votes or fundraise for campaigns. While student organizations are permitted to invite candidates to campus for the purpose of educating voters about the candidate's position, student organizations may not invite candidates on campus solely to conduct campaign rallies.
Voter Education Documents
Student groups may develop documents such as questionnaires and surveys to candidates for purposes of voter education. Student organizations may send such documents to all candidates for a particular office and solicit the candidates' opinion or a brief statement on a variety of issues. The student organization should give the candidates an opportunity to explain their responses in writing if the questions simply require a "yes or no" response. The questionnaire/survey should cover a wide range of issues. The issues selected may not be skewed in favor of certain candidates or a political party. The questions should be asked in a neutral manner. The student organization may compile the responses in a publication for the public. The publication may not have any bias or preference for a particular candidate evident in its content or structure of the publication. The publication must not endorse or favor a candidate(s). The publication must clearly identify the student organization as the author.
Student Organization Websites
Student organizations may provide hyperlinks to all legally qualified political candidates on their website so long as the links fulfill a tax-exempt purpose such as voter education or voter registration. The links should be presented on a consistent neutral basis, such as "[F]or more information on candidate X, you may consult [link]." Student organizations may not provide links only to selected candidates.
Students may write partisan editorial articles in the Observer or other student publications supported by the university that oppose or endorse specific legislation and/or candidates. The editorials must clearly state that the views expressed reflect those of the students and not the university.
Informing University of Programming
Student organizations at the university have privileges, including free use of university facilities and administrative support for programming. It is therefore the student organization's responsibility to notify the Director of Student Activities and Leadership (SAL), Colleen Barker-Williamson, prior to developing political programs. The director will offer programming guidance and review the program particulars to ensure university guidelines are being respected. If appropriate, the director also will notify other student organizations or comparable candidates.
Marketing of On-Campus Events
Student organizations are free to market on-campus events that they sponsor involving political candidates. When advertising the event, these guidelines must be followed:
- The appearance and pre-event publicity must be prefaced with the explicit statement that the candidate is not endorsed by the university and that the views of the candidate do not represent the views of the university.
- This specific disclaimer should be used on all marketing material: "The views of those invited to speak on the campus are the views of the speaker and not the views of the university. The use of Case Western Reserve University's facilities for this event does not constitute an endorsement by the university. The university does not endorse this candidate or any other candidate in connection with this or any other political campaign or election."
- The name of the sponsoring student organization(s) must be clearly stated on all marketing material.
- Case Western Reserve University letterhead/logo cannot be used when advertising the event involving a political candidate.
- The student organization must explicitly state at the event that the speaker's views do not reflect those of Case Western Reserve University.
Voter Registration Activities
A student organization may participate in non-partisan voter registration activities on campus. Voter registration booths should not mention any particular candidate or party.
For further information or if you have questions about particular activities, please contact