University News

U. enforces campaigning regulations on campus

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2012


As the November election approaches, the University has increased efforts to ensure students understand the guidelines for hosting political events and campaigning for candidates on campus. 

As a nonprofit institution, the University must comply with Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, which states, “the University is prohibited from participating in political campaigns for candidates or ballot initiatives and is restricted in conducting lobbying activities,” according to the Student Activities Office guidelines available online.

Due to these restrictions, student groups specifically created to promote the election of a particular candidate cannot receive any funding from the University, and the University cannot fund campaign-related activities by other groups. Political fundraising events are also restricted in campus facilities. 

“We want everyone in the community to benefit from being in this rich environment at an institution of higher education by hearing different voices on issues, but we also don’t want to go astray with the IRS,” said Amy Carroll, director of government relations and community affairs.

For this reason, the SAO reached out to students this semester to make sure their political activities fall within guidelines, said Timothy Shiner, director of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center and SAO. All community members were sent a brief overview of the guidelines through Morning Mail, and the SAO sent a message to all politically-focused student organizations through myGroups, he said. A member of the SAO also met with leaders from each group to clarify the guidelines, Shiner said. 

The guidelines were last updated in 2010 and “apply to every day of every year,” Carroll said, but she added that they are especially pertinent in presidential election years.

Because student groups plan events in University spaces through the SAO, the activities office reaches out to anyone planning an event that might violate the guidelines, Shiner said. 

Terrence George ’13, president of the Brown Republicans, said political student groups are most affected by the policy when they choose to bring in politicians as speakers.

“If we wanted to bring in a speaker to speak about his campaign we would need to bring in all the candidates for that position,” George said, adding that he felt the rule was reasonable. For this reason, political student groups generally bring in speakers to talk about their experiences and not their campaigns, he said.

Sofia Fernandez Gold ’14, president of the Brown Democrats, said she felt adequately equipped to work within the guidelines.

“There are plenty of opportunities to hear from candidates in an electoral context off campus. It’s very open to you, it’s just not here on campus,” she said. 

Student groups also make sure to go over the guidelines with their visiting speakers, Fernandez Gold said. In the past, the Brown Democrats have brought both Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., to speak. “With both of them we’ve done a pretty rigorous process to make sure they know the rules,” she said.

“If someone steps over the line, we do have to intervene,” she said. “Obviously that’s tricky because these candidates are active in campaigning, but we’ve really done our best.” 

There have been no issues with enforcement of the guidelines this year, Carroll said, adding that she has never seen a group violate the guidelines in her two years at the University. 


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