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From the Director: Politics and SLAC Don't Mix

(Photo - Persis Drell)
(Photo by Brad Plummer.)

Election season is upon us. Passions run high. We are inundated in the printed press, on the radio, with roadside signs and television spots proclaiming the virtues and vices of various candidates and propositions. I encourage all of you, as responsible citizens, to be part of our electoral process. But remember that however you choose to support your favorite political initiatives and candidates, you may not use any SLAC resources in the process. It is against the law.

Federal legislation, referred to as the Hatch Act and originally adopted in the 1930s, regulates or restricts political activities by federal employees as well as the use of federal property for political purposes. It has been updated and amended over the years. For SLAC, while we as employees are free to engage in the political process, the law prohibits the use of any federal property, including buildings, facilities or grounds, for political purposes. Department of Energy buildings and property may not be used for campaign activities such as town hall meetings, rallies, speeches, fundraisers, press conferences or photo opportunities. This is true even if a facility has a policy to permit use of some portion of the facilities by the public. The entire SLAC campus is leased to the DOE, so even the grounds cannot be used for political activities.

The law also extends to property that has been assigned to you, such as computers, telephones, copiers and even the computing networks that you access. So while Stanford policy allows incidental personal use of such property, that incidental use would not include the use of DOE-owned or university-owned personal property for political activities. In fact, Stanford has a policy that prohibits or limits the use of any university resources for political activities.

We do have political figures on our campus from time to time. Representatives Mike Honda and Zoe Lofgren came to the Linac Coherent Light Source celebration. Illinois Representative Foster gave a colloquium here recently on his experiences as a physicist in Congress. These are perfectly legitimate activities although they need to be carefully handled to ensure they cannot be interpreted as or evolve into political events. There is a clear line boundary that must not be stepped over. If you have any questions, please consult with SLAC legal counsel Steve Porter and always keep in mind: SLAC and politics don't mix!

—Persis Drell
SLAC Today, October 15, 2010