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Political Activities and Engagements with Government Officials
October 07, 2020

To: The Campus Community
From: Jennifer Lum, General Counsel and Ken Hargreaves, Assistant Vice President for Strategy Implementation and External Relations
Date: October 7, 2020
Re: Political Activities and Engagements with Government Officials

As the 2020 election season is upon us, we want to take this opportunity to provide all members of the Caltech community, including colleagues from campus, JPL, and off-site locations, with information regarding the laws and policies that bear on political activities and engagement with government officials.

While all Caltech community members are free to express political opinions and engage in political activities, they must do so in their individual capacities and avoid the appearance that they are speaking or acting on the Institute's behalf. This position in no way inhibits the expression of personal political views by any Caltech community member. Caltech community members are also able to join with others on their own time, without using Caltech resources, to support candidates for office or in furtherance of political causes. Discussion of political and policy issues that impact our academic endeavors are welcome and an important part of Caltech's values and principles fostering diverse and inclusive thought.

As a tax-exempt educational institution, however, Caltech has a legal obligation not to engage in partisan political campaign activity. The law prohibits Caltech community members from acting or communicating on behalf of the Institute or using Caltech resources to directly or indirectly support or oppose a political campaign, a candidate for public office, or a political party or partisan political group. Caltech is also subject to federal, state, and local lobbying laws that limit activities such as supporting or opposing ballot measures and propositions. As such, all members of the Caltech community are expected to abide by Caltech's lobbying policy.

In addition to the rules stated above, Caltech has legal obligations related to its management of JPL, a federally funded research and development center.

Examples of prohibited activities for all members of the community include: 

  • reimbursing employees for campaign contributions;
  • using Caltech services, facilities, equipment, or support for political purposes (support includes, but is not limited to, staff time, including administrative support, and such things as mailing lists, office space, photocopying, postage, videoconferencing services, interdepartmental mail, electronic mail, duplicating machines, computers, and facsimile machines); 
  • using Institute office addresses or Caltech or JPL email addresses as a return mailing address for political mailings;
  • using Caltech telephones for political campaign purposes; however, the use of campus residential telephone services for these purposes is allowed; 
  • using official letterhead, logos, or marks from Caltech or any subset of the Institute—including, but not limited to, the Caltech logo, JPL logo, or the Caltech seal—in support of a candidate, political party, or partisan political group;
  • providing hyperlinks to web pages of candidates on Institute web pages; and
  • providing official remarks at an Institute meeting in support of a candidate or political party. 

Other activities not on this list may also be prohibited. For more information, please review Caltech's Political Activities Guidelines. If you have any questions, please contact Campus External Relations Officer Ken Hargreaves (phone: 626-395-6256 or email: ken.hargreaves@caltech.edu) or JPL Legislative and Governmental Affairs Manager Patty Rhee (phone: 818-393-4585 or email: Patty.m.rhee@jpl.nasa.gov)