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Communicating and Lobbying Government: Compliance Examples for Faculty and Staff

In this Section

1) What you should know about communicating with government

2) How lobbying is defined

3) Why you must keep the Office of Government Relations informed

4) When there is no need to notify Government Relations

5) When you must notify Government Relations

6) Mandatory registration of faculty and staff as lobbyists


1) What you should know about communicating with government

All U.S. citizens and green card holders have personal needs that inevitably require communication with government and such private interactions are not the business of the University. On the other hand, Clarkson employees may communicate with the government in many ways that relate specifically or generally to the University. In some instances, Clarkson regulations require its senior administrators to authorize such interactions in advance.

Before you contact officials, especially those elected at the state and federal levels, regarding a matter related to your work at Clarkson and/or that might advance the University’s interests on an issue, funding measure, or government policy or legislative measure, please first contact the Office of Government Relations. You must ensure that the University is informed of your intent so that if the action constitutes lobbying under state or federal statutes, your proposed plan receives appropriate review.

The Director, Government Relations is the principal point of contact for all officials and agencies at all government levels. Clarkson University’s President, Provost, and Vice President for External Relations are also specifically authorized to contact government agencies and officials.

This policy does not apply to established relationships with government officials pertaining to accreditation, educational program registration, and discussions with State or Federal agency personnel about specific grant opportunities, existing grants or any other grant business that is not an effort to change State or Federal policies or constitutes an effort to lobby for the approval of a grant request.  The latter two items are subject to the policies and the Government Relations office should be notified well before these actions are taken.

This policy does not apply to established relationships with government officials pertaining to accreditation, educational program registration, and discussions with State or Federal agency personnel about specific grant opportunities, existing grants or any other grant business that is not an effort to change State or Federal policies or constitutes an effort to lobby for the approval of a grant request.  The latter two items are subject to the policies and the Government Relations office should be notified well before these actions are taken.

This policy does not apply to established relationships or new relationships with government officials pertaining to administrative matters such as applying for a building permit or getting a State Department of Transportation engineer to come to your class to make a presentation on new, approved bridge design methods or construction projects that venture innovative highway construction technologies.

More examples:  if the University Environmental Health and Safety Officer/Radiation Safety Officer wishes to communicate with the officials with the NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control about a routine matter about fire extinguishers in student residences no referral is required to Government Relations. But if this University employee wanted to comment on proposed changes in state or federal regulations pertaining to fire safety inspections at independent colleges and universities, then Government Relations should be contacted before comments are sent on Clarkson letterhead.  If you want to make comments at a Potsdam Village Board meeting about a Village proposal regarding Village of Potsdam police patrols on or near University campuses, you should contact Government Relations before you get very far on drafting your comments, for example.

This policy does apply to bringing a State legislator into your classroom to make a presentation on government GAPP accounting principles.  Please let Government Relations know ahead of the visit, just in case the president or provost would like to meet with her/him before or after the class.

Please be aware that the higher your level of communication in government organizations, the more likely it is that your proposed interaction will require review to determine if and to what extent it might impact other University initiatives or priorities. The Clarkson president or the provost must decide whether proposed government communications or lobbying will be authorized by the University.

If you have any questions regarding making contacts with government officials and agencies, call or contact at 315-268-6474 or rwood@clarkson.edu

2) How lobbying is defined

Local, state, and federal levels of government define lobbying in slightly different ways. All Clarkson faculty and staff members planning to communicate with government officials or agencies should understand what constitutes lobbying and all must adhere to specific University policies related to lobbying.

Broadly speaking with respect to Clarkson, institutional lobbying is any effort by anyone acting in their capacity as a University employee to influence a government employee (elected or administrative) or a government agency on a matter that will (a) have an economic impact on the University; (b) alter the outcome of a legislative or administrative proceeding; or (c) change a government program.  

Clarkson employees who work frequently with government officials or agencies should not rely simply on this broad description, but should know and clearly understand the verbatim definitions of lobbying spelled out in the new Government Relations Policies section of the University Operations Manual.  Clarkson has created this section to ensure compliance with the law and also to better focus its own resources on the most important issues.

3) Why you must keep the Office of Government Relations informed

Among other legal concerns, the University must record its lobbying time and travel costs in both or either state and federal reports and must also identify lobbied individuals, agencies and committees. (This information must be reported whether or not an effort succeeds.) If you choose to lobby the government on your personal behalf, you must do so on your own time, you must not use Clarkson resources to fund your travel or incidentals, and you must make it clear you do not represent the University or its position.

There are a variety of lobbying and non-lobbying scenarios in which the University requires you to seek administrative approval or guidance in advance from Clarkson’s Director of Government Relations.

The following examples describe typical situations in which a Clarkson employee may communicate with or may wish to influence government officials. Each of these scenarios includes an explanation of appropriate procedures. If you are uncertain how you should proceed, please contact the Office of Government Relations for advice. 

 4) When there is no need to notify Government Relations

Meeting with a government official about a competitive proposal

If you meet with a federal or state agency program manager to learn about an upcoming competitive proposal, this is not lobbying. You do not need to contact the Director, Government Relations

Government request for a presentation or findings

If a Congressional or state legislative staffer or agency staffer calls or emails you to review a paper you wrote and asks you to present your findings to her/his boss, this is not lobbying. You do not need to contact the Director, Government Relations

Government committee appointment

If you are officially appointed to a government committee to recommend funding priorities (for a DOD or NSF program or a state agency panel, for example), this is not lobbying. There is no requirement for clearance from the Director, Government Relations

Utilizing government expertise without any consideration

If you invite a government official to serve as an advisor for a student project team, this is not lobbying. You do not need to convey your plan in advance to the Director, Government Relations.

5) When you must notify Government Relations

Invited government testimony on behalf of Clarkson

You may be invited to testify before a Congressional or state committee. This is not lobbying.  Nevertheless, procedures regarding such invited testimony are addressed in the University Operations Manual. Pursuant to the new Government Relations Policies, before conveying your views in person, writing, email, or by phone, you must contact the Director, Government Relations and describe your proposed action.  (Assistance to help you prepare is available from Government Relations and other University offices.)

Unsolicited government testimony  

Perhaps you have a point of view you want to convey as testimony to local, state, or federal government agencies or officials while speaking in your capacity as a University employee; you want to use University resources to prepare and deliver this message. This may or may not be defined as lobbying by applicable state or federal law. Before conveying your views (in person, writing, email, or by phone), you must contact the Director, Government Relations and describe your contemplated action. 

The director will inform the provost or president, who will decide whether to endorse your proposed action and, if it is endorsed, will determine the most effective way of proceeding. Alternatively, they might encourage you to use your personal time and resources to express your point of view and to make it clear you do not represent the University or its position. In such cases, you may identify yourself using your Clarkson job title, but you should also use at least two other identifiers (resident of Potsdam, member of IEEE, etc.).

Issue advocacy utilizing Clarkson resources

You may feel a local, state, or federal government issue is so personally important that you want to use University resources (email, phone system, photocopying and other office services, for example) to rally a group inside or outside the University to support or oppose a legislative or administrative proposal. This is lobbying. As in the scenarios above, before beginning any such action, you must contact the Director, Government Relations and describe your plans. A decision to authorize or deny your utilization of resources will be made by the president or provost.

Professional society advocacy for funding

If you attend a professional society meeting (in Washington, D.C., for example) using University resources and you join your colleagues to meet with Congressional staff to advocate more funding (from, for example, the National Science Foundation), this is lobbying.  Therefore, before conveying your views in person, writing, email, or by phone (while in Washington or from campus), you must contact the Director, Government Relations and describe your plan. The president or the provost will decide whether to authorize you to lobby on behalf of the University on these specific professional society issues.

Professional society advocacy on policy or legislation

Your professional society may ask you to contact your legislator or member of Congress, or other government official by phone, email, letter or other means to support or oppose pending legislation. This is lobbying. Pursuant to the new Government Relations Policies, before conveying your views as requested in person, by writing, email, phone, or other means you must contact the Director, Government Relations and describe the action you are contemplating. A decision to authorize you to lobby as a representative of the University will be made by the president or provost.

Government financial sponsorship for a student project

If you ask a state or federal agency for financial sponsorship of a student project team, this is lobbying. Therefore, before embarking on any communication regarding your request, you must contact the Director, Government Relations and describe your plan. A decision to authorize you to proceed will be made by the president or provost.

Unplanned lobbying opportunity

If you find yourself with an unexpected opportunity to pitch an idea or activity (for example, a chance conversation in which you might solicit support for a new center at the University) to a Congressman, state legislator, and/or state or federal agency official, your pitch would constitute lobbying on behalf of the institution. Therefore you should not pursue it under this circumstance. Before conveying your views you must contact the Director, Government Relations and describe the lobbying action you are contemplating. A decision to authorize the employee to lobby or take other action to lobby the issue will be made by the president or provost.


6) Mandatory registration of faculty and staff as lobbyists

Registration

Your level of lobbying activity will determine whether or not the University must register you as a local, state, or federal government lobbyist. Generally, infrequent lobbying activities will not require registration.  The Office of Government Relations will assist in making this determination.

Please contact Robert Wood, Director, Government Relations, if you have any questions about lobbying or contacting government officials:   rwood@clarkson.edu   315-268-6474.