The primary rule is that facilities of your public office cannot be used in election campaigns or in support of or in opposition to ballot measures. See RCW 42.17A.555 (formerly RCW 42.17.130).
So what are “public facilities?” They include:
- office space
- local government staff (during working hours)
- stationery or postage
- equipment (including computers, printers, phones)
- publications put out by your agency
- lists of persons served by your local government.
As a private individual you can, of course, express your own personal views concerning, supporting, or opposing any candidate or ballot proposition, as long as you don’t use the facilities of your public office to do it. According to Public Disclosure Commission Guidelines, “An elected official may use his or her title, but should clarify that he/she is speaking on his/her own behalf, and not on behalf of the agency.”
Also, your local government is allowed to take certain actions at election time (see WAC 390-05-271) :
- A public agency is allowed to make facilities available on a nondiscriminatory, equal access basis for political uses. [Note that the Public Disclosure Commission presumes that the facilities in question are the kind customarily made available to the public, such as a meeting room, which private groups can rent or otherwise reserve for a private political function.]
- A public agency is allowed to make an objective and fair presentation of facts relevant to a ballot proposition. But only if the action is part of the normal and regular conduct of the office or agency.
[For more detail on this topic generally, see PDC Guidelines for Local Government Agencies in Election Campaigns.]
The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has regulatory and enforcement authority regarding the prohibitions in RCW 42.17A.555 concerning the use of public office and facilities for or against ballot measures or in election campaigns. The PDC staff encourages local government officials to contact them with questions in advance of a proposed activity that may involve the use of public facilities in a ballot campaign. Staff can be reached at:
Public Disclosure Commission / 711 Capitol Way #206 / PO Box 40908 / Olympia, WA 98504-0908: Toll free 877-601-2828 / Phone 360-753-1111 / FAX 360-753-1112 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org