1st Amendment News

A&A: Can CSU lobby for laws that boost their budget?

Q: I am working on an article concerning letters CSU sent out that seem to advocate Proposition 30, the California tax initiative that will help reduce cuts to the school system. I had a few questions on the legality of this.

A: Your question seems to be whether a public agency may engage in lobbying activity. Although “lobbying” typically refers to communications to legislators urging them to take a particular position on pending legislation, with respect to voter initiatives the electorate is serving in the role of legislator. Thus, communications to voters urging them to take specific positions on initiatives are “lobbying.”

There are restrictions on lobbying in both federal, through the Internal Revenue Code, and state law, through the California Political Reform Act. However, neither of these laws places any restrictions on lobbying activity by public agencies, like the CSU, or any of its public entities. Indeed, California law generally allows lobbying by local and state governmental units. (Please note that a federal law, the Hatch Act, does restrict the ability of local governmental employees whose activities are supported by federal funds from engaging in partisan political activity).

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.

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