Guidelines on advocacy, political campaign activity and lobbying at our public institution

Editor’s note: Originally posted Nov. 8, 2021. This article will be reviewed/revised and circulated annually.

Advocacy and political engagement are important undertakings. As SMPH students, staff and faculty, our work can offer a unique vantage point on the impact of societal and governmental action or inaction on health, public health, and scientific progress. This article provides a brief overview about frequently asked questions on political or legislative activity and issue-focused advocacy within the context of our status as a public, state-affiliated institution.

What is the difference between advocacy, lobbying, and political campaign activity?

Each of these terms refer to distinct concepts:

  • Advocacy involves taking a stance on a matter, usually in favor of or “advocating for” a concept, person, place, or thing. Advocacy may or may not involve political or legislative activity. For example, one could advocate for the health of survivors of domestic violence by identifying ways that health systems can optimize their clinical operations to meet the needs of this population and publishing recommendations for the health care industry. In that example, advocacy does not involve legislative or political actions. In contrast, writing to a legislator using university time, role or resources to urge passage of draft legislation that impacts survivors of domestic violence is an example of lobbying (see below).
  • Lobbying is defined by Stat. §13.62(10) as the practice of attempting to influence legislative or administrative action by oral or written communication with any elective state official, agency official or legislative employee, and includes time spent in preparation for such communication and appearances at public hearings or meetings or service on a committee in which such preparation or communication occurs. Note that providing responses to requests for information from legislators or legislative staff is not considered to be lobbying.
  • Political campaign activity is defined by the UW System as actions such as soliciting campaign contributions; advocating, volunteering, or working for candidates for elected office or for political parties or political action committees; or advocating a particular position on a referendum. See Stat. § 11.1207.

Lobbying and political campaign activity by UW–Madison employees are regulated activities under state law and Board of Regents policy, meaning that there are specific things that can and can’t be done within the scope of one’s employment.

What are the guidelines for lobbying?

In general, lobbying activities must be done separately from work time or work locations, and employees must use only personal resources unless authorized by the University.

Under state law, the university is required to report the names of those employees whose duties include attempting to influence legislation on behalf of the university. This includes, for example, government affairs professionals as well as leaders of UW–Madison (e.g., the Chancellor and Deans of schools and colleges within the university).

Prior to contacting any government officials during university work time and / or using university resources for the purposes of influencing legislation, SMPH employees should contact Connie Schulze (cschulze@uwhealth.org), Director of Government Affairs for SMPH and UW Health.

In some scenarios, the school and/or health system may take an official stance on legislation that relates to topics such as health professions education, health care, public health, or biomedical research. If your professional area of expertise is within scope of the issue, you may be asked by the Office of Government Affairs to support the effort by testifying at a committee hearing, reviewing a briefing paper, attending a meeting, or otherwise applying your expertise to proposed legislation. Please note, however, that our organization does not take a position on every one of the hundreds to thousands of proposed state and federal bills that arise each year.

What are the guidelines for political campaign activities?

Regulations about political campaign activities by state employees are very specific. UW–Madison employees cannot engage in political campaign activities during work time, use state resources to engage in political campaign activities at any time, or solicit contributions or services for a political purpose from other university employees while they are engaged in their official duties.

If you desire to run for a state office, becoming elected could affect your employment at the university because an elected state official may not simultaneously hold a paid position at UW–Madison or any other UW System unit.

There are also restrictions or guidelines on hosting political fundraisers, soliciting campaign donations, and displaying partisan political signs that advocate a candidate, political party, or referendum outcome in a current election in the workplace. See details and examples from UW–Madison and UW System.

What other “Dos and Don’ts” should SMPH employees be aware of?

Please do the following:

  • Vote. An excellent resource for information about voting is BadgersVote, a campus-wide initiative that strives to help students and other members of the UW–Madison community with everything you need to know about how to participate in elections.
  • Review UW–Madison, UW System and UW Health policies and guidelines about political activity. See links to resources below.
  • Respond as an individual to requests for information from policymakers. As a courtesy, please update Government Affairs by contacting cschulze@uwhealth.org.
  • Support the institution if asked by Government Affairs. You might be asked to collaborate and contribute your time and expertise on public health, medical, or health education topics.
  • Work as an individual to support or oppose public policies that are important to you. You are also free to work with professional societies on such efforts, on your own time and using your own resources.
  • Use your personal social media accounts to express your opinion on public policy, while noting that your views are your own and not those of SMPH, UW–Madison or (if dually employed) UW Health.
  • Contact Government Affairs about issues that matter to you or our institution. There may be opportunity to collaborate.

Please don’t do the following:

  • Do not present your views to a policymaker on behalf of SMPH or UW Health unless asked to do so by Government Affairs or your department or school leader (chair or dean).
  • Do not invite public officials to visit or tour a university or UW Health facility without first consulting Government Affairs.
  • Do not use SMPH or UW Health resources for lobbying or political campaign activity. Examples of state-owned resources include institutional letterhead and logos, office space and other facilities, office supplies, photocopiers, phones, fax machines, electronic resources such as email, websites, social media accounts that represent a unit of the school or university, etc.
  • Do not use work time for lobbying or political campaign activity.

Resources and further reading: