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Political Solicitation

This is the place to discuss how to deal with the situation where an official puts pressure, directly or indirectly, on subordinates to participate in political campaigns. This provision also deals with the problem of political activity at work or with city funds or facilities. Municipal officials and employees have the right to participate in political activities, but they also have an obligation to separate this from their municipal responsibilities. Some city administrations have based their power on pressuring subordinates into working for their re-election. Please share your experiences with this sort of conflict, and with attempts to control it.

100(9). Political Solicitation

An official, employee, or municipal candidate may not knowingly request, or authorize anyone else to request, that any subordinate* or potential future subordinate participate in an election campaign or make a political contribution. Nor may he or she engage in any political activity while on duty for the city, with the use of city funds, supplies, vehicles, or facilities, or during any period of time during which he or she is normally expected to perform services for the city, for which compensation is paid.

Comment: Political solicitation of subordinates by an official fosters the appearance, if not the reality, of coercion. The word "knowingly" here means that neither an official nor a campaign committee is required to cull the names of municipal officials from voter registration lists it mails to. However, a targeted mailing to municipal officials is prohibited.

Similarly, candidates are barred from soliciting from appointed officials and employees who may fear reprisal, such as being fired, if they refuse to aid the candidate's campaign, even if they do not currently work under that candidate.

Note that this code does not restrict voluntary political contributions or political activity by any official or employee.

Some municipalities may wish to add a bar on soliciting from persons or entities that have sought or received a financial benefit from the municipality within the previous twenty-four months.

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Robert Wechsler says:

One thing missing from my draft model code is anything about political activity during working hours. Do you feel such a provision is appropriate to an ethics code, or does it belong in employee rules of conduct?

One thing to watch out for in considering ethics provisions is whether they are intended to deal with a true problem or whether they are intended to hamstring particular politicians. For example, according to a recent (now inaccessible) editorial, the Anchorage, Alaska council's draft ethics ordinance prohibits a mayor from campaigning or even filing for another office. This would prevent the mayor from running for Congress or any other higher position.

There's no doubt that running for office creates a big conflict, and hurts the public interest, but it's a conflict the public accepts. In fact, the public seems to be proud of its mayor seeking higher office, and feels that, if the mayor succeeds, it will help the city.

Can anyone make an argument for such a provision, assuming, of course, that it is not intended to hamstring a particular person or group?

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research-Retired, City Ethics