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: On Call Employees Over Holidays
December 17, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Holiday Decorations
December 10, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Removal of Library Books
December 3, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Attendance Waivers
November 19, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: HB 103 Texas Active Shooter Alert
November 12, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Remote Learning and ADA-Funding
November 5, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: CBD Oil
October 29, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Temporary Custodians of Record – TPIA
October 22, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Dyslexia Handbook Update
October 15, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Peace Officer Legislation
October 8, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: HB 1525 PTO Donations
October 1, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: State Certifications Update – SB 13 & SB 19
September 24, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Accelerated and Supplemental Instruction HB 4545
September 17, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Active Threat Excercises
September 10, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: HB 1927 Firearms
September 3, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Remote Participation in Board Meetings
August 27, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Waiving Minimum Attendance Requirements for Seriously Ill Students
August 20, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Inquiring About Vaccine Status
August 13, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Temporary Suspension of TPIA due to Catastrophe
August 6, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Standard for Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect
July 30, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Bullying Policies and Reporting SB 2050
July 23, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Homeschoolers and UIL
July 16, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: TOMA Suspension Extension
July 9, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: Revision to Resignation without Penalty Deadline
July 2, 2021
KBS Reference Desk: SB 179 School Counselors
June 25, 2021