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Chapter 11: Political Activity and Lobbying

A: Political Activity

Vanderbilt is subject to restrictions concerning activities of a political nature. In particular, the Internal Revenue Code imposes on tax-exempt organizations such as Vanderbilt limitations relating to attempts to influence legislation and participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of candidates for public office.

The American Council on Education has taken the initiative in preparing a statement of guidelines for use by universities in their efforts to comply with the applicable provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. This statement has been reviewed by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, who found the guidelines “fair and reasonable” from the standpoint of the Internal Revenue Service. Faculty are expected to abide by the following principles as stated in the guidelines:

Educational institutions traditionally have recognized and provided facilities on an impartial basis to various activities on the college campuses, even those activities that have a partisan political bent, such as, for example, Republican, Democratic, and other political clubs. This presents no problem. However, to the extent that such organizations extend their activities beyond the campus, and intervene or participate in campaigns on behalf of candidates for public office, or permit nonmembers of the University community to avail themselves of University facilities or services, an institution should in good faith make certain that proper and appropriate charges are made and collected for all facilities and services provided. Extraordinary or prolonged use of facilities, particularly by nonmembers of the University community, even with reimbursement, might raise questions. Such organizations should be prohibited from soliciting in the name of the University funds to be used in such off-campus intervention or participation.

Every member of the academic community has a right to participate or not, as he sees fit, in the election process. On the other hand, no member of that community should speak or act in the name of the institution in a political campaign.

In another paragraph, a statement is made concerning the reduction of the regular responsibilities of faculty and staff:

In that case, the question might be raised whether releasing faculty and staff members from normal duties, with pay, to participate in the (election) process represents an indirect participation by the institution itself in a political campaign on behalf of a candidate for public office.

All members of the Vanderbilt University community should observe these principles in planning and engaging in political activities that might either directly or indirectly involve the University. Questions concerning the application of these points should be addressed to the Office of the General Counsel.

B: Lobbying Regulations

The Byrd Amendment to the 1990 Department of Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act bars the use of appropriated federal funds to influence or attempt to influence the awarding of specific federal grants, contracts, and loans. Rules issued pursuant to the Byrd Amendment define “influencing or attempting to influence” as making, with the intent to influence, any communication to an officer or employee of any federal agency or Congress in connection with a specific federal contract or grant. The “use of appropriated federal funds” may include the payment of compensation to a University faculty member if that faculty member engages in the prohibited lobbying activities. Communications with agency representatives or members of Congress may be unallowable when they occur after formal solicitation and concern a specific grant or contract. Faculty members may obtain a copy of the regulations from the Office of Sponsored Research or the Office of the General Counsel.