Our board has just passed a resolution supporting a ballot measure. What are the restrictions on the district’s involvement in reporting that action, including information in print materials such as the district newsletter, and advocacy by staff members?

District resources, including district staff working on their paid time, cannot be used to promote ballot measures.  Staff members can promote ballot measures on their personal time as long as it is clear that they are supporting and promoting the measures as private individuals.  The exception to this may be the superintendent, or other highly visible employees of the district.

From the Secretary of State’s manual re: public employee’s campaigning do’s and don’ts located here:

  • An administrative, management employee must be cautious in that they may be a publicly known figure in the jurisdiction.  An administrative, management employee must not use a letter to the editor or series of such letters as an outlet for political advocacy if it is done recognizably in the context of their official capacity.  Even if the letters are written on personal time using personal equipment, the content and verbiage of the published material may indicate they were written in the context of speaking as the administrator or manager and thus be a potential election law violation of ORS 260.432(2).

The district staff may perform clerical support for the board that have to do with the motion to support ballot initiatives, as long as the clerical work does not directly promote the initiative itself.  For instance, the board secretary can report the action of the board in the minutes, type up those minutes and post those minutes on the website. The superintendent could report the language of the motion and the fact that it was passed by the board in a newsletter, as long as he or she regularly reports in the newsletter on board actions.

There should be no campaigning included, or advocacy for a position by the district, just a restatement of the board’s motion. In other words you wouldn’t want to put "Vote yes for the bond measure!" in your newsletter, even if the board voted to support the bond measure.  A statement of the boards motion, recording that the board made and passed it, would be OK.  Staff should not copy promotional material for the board to distribute.  If board members wish to campaign for the initiative or bond measure, they must make the copies themselves on their own time and at their own expense. Board members as elected officials are able to campaign for initiatives and identify themselves as board members. 

For more information on this question, Ask Betsy's Team.