October 15, 2020

Reminder on prohibited political activities

The SIU Ethics Office would like remind all university employees and appointees about the importance of individuals complying with the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, especially during a time when passions are high and many are working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In section 5-15(a), the Ethics Act provides: 

“State employees shall not intentionally perform any prohibited political activity during any compensated time (other than vacation, personal, or compensatory time off). State employees shall not intentionally misappropriate any State property or resources by engaging in any prohibited political activity for the benefit of any campaign for elective office or any political organization.” 

For purposes of this prohibition, “prohibited political activity” includes (but not limited to):

  • Participating in any political event.
  • Soliciting votes on behalf of a candidate for elective office.
  • Distributing campaign literature or material on behalf of a candidate.
  • Campaigning for any elective office.
  • Working on a campaign for elective office. 

The prohibition extends to the use of personal devices and accounts if you are using them while on compensated time, which could present more pitfalls while working at home, especially given the flexibility of hours many of us now have. 

The Executive Ethics Commission (EEC) recently imposed a fine on a state employee for using a personal device to make campaign posts on Facebook while on compensated time. See the McMechan decision. 

The SIU Ethics Office is not suggesting that every private expression of opinion with respect to your assessment of a candidate is necessarily a violation of the Ethics Act, but there is a large gray area. The more posts tend toward public, widely dispersed advocacy for a candidate, the more they could be interpreted as falling within the scope of the prohibitions. The office is simply reminding you of the restrictions so that you can avoid getting too close to what would be considered violative behavior. As always, the SIU Ethics Office (ethics1@siu.edu) remains available to discuss particular situations at your request. 

Finally, you may refer to this brochure or the Ethics Act for more information as well as the full definition of prohibited political activity.