Northwestern encourages civic and political engagement by all members of the University community and offers the following as guidance for those who wish to contact government officials.
Government Relations staff represent Northwestern University before local, state and federal government officials. The Government Relations Office is the best resource if you are interested in, or have been contacted to participate in, grassroots advocacy or direct lobbying.
Personal Activism and Grassroots Lobbying
You may be part of professional organizations that ask their members to sign petitions, write letters and attend events to communicate concerns to federal and state policymakers on a wide range of issues, including the responsible use of science in public policy, the need for international cooperation in science and technology, and the need to protect federal funding across all disciplines of science, arts, and the humanities.
- Signing petitions and group letters - you may participate in grassroots lobbying campaigns by signing on to petitions and group letters, and you may give your title and University affiliation as credentials, so long as you are not representing your views as that of Northwestern University.
- Writing letters or emails - personal letters and emails to your elected legislators weigh most heavily with legislative offices, as they represent the views of actual voters.
- Using University resources - University resources, including letterhead and email accounts, should not be used for personal correspondence with government officials. This restriction, however, would not apply if you are a faculty member writing on a subject matter directly related to your teaching or research. As suggested in the Academic Freedom section of the Faculty Handbook, faculty members should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.
- Participating in lobbying or advocacy days - many associations, professional organizations, and scientific societies sponsor conferences or meetings in Washington, DC or Springfield, IL that include meetings with legislators or other government officials. Please be aware that meeting with government officials could constitute direct lobbying, which is a restricted activity. Please contact the Government Relations Office if you are planning to meet with government officials in Washington, DC or Springfield, IL (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Restrictions on Direct Lobbying
Faculty and staff must consult with the Government Relations Office prior to initiating direct lobbying contact with federal, state or local elected officials and must report and account for legislative and/or lobbying activities.
Federal tax law states that "no substantial part" of a tax-exempt organizations’ activities may be devoted to lobbying. Large nonprofits like universities may lawfully expend up to $1 million per year under the law’s "expenditure" test. This expenditure limit applies to lobbying at all levels of government and must include all lobbying activities of the University’s personnel, including its government-relations staff; its retained lobbyists; and its membership organizations.
Northwestern is also subject to the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act, which requires the University to monitor lobbying activities of all staff and faculty in order to report accurately in compliance with federal tax and lobbying laws.
The University’s full policy on lobbying and communications with government officials can be found online (https://policies.northwestern.edu/docs/lobbying-communication-020912.pdf. The practical implications of this policy are that:
- Faculty and staff should notify the Government Relations Office before contacting, or responding to, government officials. Although many of these communications do not constitute lobbying, they should be vetted with Government Relations to determine if reporting is required.
- Faculty and staff should coordinate invitations to government officials for campus visits and speeches or appearances at special events with the Government Relations Office.
- Faculty and staff should notify the Government Relations Office of planned meetings with government officials, including invitations for testimony before legislative or administrative panels. The Government Relations Office can help find opportunities for testimony.
- Faculty and staff can get updated information from the Government Relations Office on current legislative or regulatory matters affecting higher education.
- Faculty and staff can contact Government Relations at email@example.com.
Northwestern Lobbying Policy Documents
- Lobbying and Communications by Faculty and Staff with Federal, State and Local Government Officials Policy
- Reporting Instructions and Forms
- If you have any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org