KBS Reference Desk: Electioneering with Email Account

Q: I was just copied on an email from one of our board members sent to the local Chamber of Commerce listserv from the board member’s school email account advocating support for our upcoming bond election. Is use of the school’s email permitted for this purpose?

A: No. A school district employee or official may not use his or her school email account, nor any other public resource, to advocate, to any degree, for or against a particular political candidate or position.

Texas law prohibits school employees and officials from using public resources to distribute messages advocating support for or against a particular candidate, party, or ballot measure. Although not defined in any statute or judicial order, the Texas Ethics Commission has issued opinions rebuking government officials for the use of email to conduct political advertising and/or electioneering. The Texas Legislature has defined political advertising as any published communication supporting or opposing a political position. Similarly, electioneering means to work for the election of a candidate or party or distribute political literature designed to influence voters.

The Commission has held that when a school district employee or official distributes a message via his or her school email account, the act of clicking “send” is considered the equivalent of using school-funded postage stamps and envelopes to distribute physical letters via U.S. mail. If the content of these letters (or email) contains a message that constitutes political advertising or electioneering, then a knowing violator could be charged criminally with a Class A misdemeanor. The same would apply to a post made on a school social media account or a presentation given in one’s official capacity.

School district employees and officials are also prohibited from using school equipment to advocate for or against a specific political position. For example, a district employee is prohibited from using a school-issued laptop to create and send political fliers promoting a particular political candidate or position, regardless of whether the individual is creating and sending the fliers on his own time and at his own house. The inverse is true as well; that is, a school district employee may not use a private device or email account to send messages promoting a political position during that individual’s working hours. This ensures that public resources intended for education are not diverted to promoting political agendas.

As the line between permitted advocacy and prohibited electioneering and/or advertising can be murky, particularly for superintendents in school districts with bond elections pending, we recommend consultation with counsel and careful review of Texas Ethics Commission guidance.

Related Posts

Recent Articles

KBS Reference Desk: Felony Conviction and School Board Candidates
April 9, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: T-TESS Rubric Virtual
April 2, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: COVID-19 Vaccination Status Questions and EEO Laws
March 26, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Certification Addendum
March 19, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Lifting of Mask Mandate and Implications for UIL Activities
March 12, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Identification of TPIA Requestor
March 5, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Pay During Closure
February 26, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Vaccines and Quarantine
February 19, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Face Masks and the First Amendment
February 12, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Virtual Learning and Child Find
February 5, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: American Rescue Plan
January 29, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Spring Testing
January 22, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: TOMA Suspension Extension – Additional 30 days
January 15, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Updated FFCRA Guidance
January 8, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: New Stay-at-Home Protocols
December 18, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Vaccine as a Requirement for School Attendance
December 11, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Campus Closure due to COVID-19 and Funding
December 4, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Nonexempt Volunteer Work
November 20, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Required Transition from Virtual to ON-campus Learning
November 13, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: TPIA – 10-day Extension
November 6, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Discontinue Virtual Learning
October 30, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Political Dress
October 23, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Emergency Safety Drills
October 16, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Requests for Homebound Instruction During COVID
October 9, 2020
KBS Reference Desk: Mask Exception
October 2, 2020