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Political Activities for Public Employees: Ballot Measures

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A list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding regulations of political activities for public employees as it relates to ballot measures. While this page includes FAQs, they are not legal advice. For exact language and legal requirements, view Portland City Code and City Charter.


Can City employee work time be used to advocate for a Council-referred ballot measure?

No. Once the issue is certified to the ballot, no public employee work time may be used to distribute any material that advocates a political position on the measure. City employees may not use City resources for any type of political activity during working hours, including but not limited to, interoffice mail, telephone, FAX machine, internet, email, or photocopy machines to advocate for or against the measure.

While City employees are not prohibited from any discussion of the subject of the measure, a distinction must be made between an action that supports or opposes the measure and the performance of duties normally expected to be required of a public employee as part of their job. 

See ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rules 4.06, 4.08 & 4.09.

Can City employee work time and/or City resources be used to research and prepare a Council-referred ballot measure?

Yes. City employees may engage in research, public meetings, surveys and other actions to aid in the Council’s decision-making process of whether to put a specific issue on the ballot. However, once the issue is certified to the ballot, no public employee work time or resources may be used to redistribute any material that advocates a political position on the measure. See ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rules 4.06, 4.08 & 4.09.

Do these restrictions apply to initiative and referendum petitions?

Yes, even more so. While the restrictions against political activities apply to Council-referred measures after they are certified to the ballot, they apply to initiative and referendum petitions from the date the prospective petition is filed with the Auditor and throughout the signature gathering process. See ORS 260.432.

Can City employees provide any information about ballot measures?

Yes. City employees may provide information related to a measure as long as the information is factual, unbiased, and appropriate to the usual conduct of City business. Any analysis must be fairly presented to include only factual information, not speculation. Further, the analysis cannot be one-sided, but must provide a balance of information. A public employee presenting impartial information about a ballot measure on their work time or official capacity must follow similar standards for impartiality as outlined for written materials. Courts strictly interpret this restriction. Any information prepared concerning the anticipated effect of a measure should be submitted to the City Attorney's Office for review before distribution. See ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rule 4.06.

Can a City employee attend meetings where a measure is discussed?

Yes, with caution. City employees may be present at a meeting with people where City ballot measures are discussed.

When City employees are aware campaign issues may come up, they should arrange to leave, pre-schedule personal time to attend, or alert the attendees of restrictions on campaigning by public employees. For example, if discussion concerning campaigning for or against a measure are part of a circulated written agenda, then the employee should not participate in those activities, which could involve the need to leave the meeting. Abbreviated and ad hoc discussions involving measure advocacy may be difficult to predict and unless campaign issues become the primary discussion, should not require an employee to leave a meeting. Regardless, City employees should not join in those activities or discussions, other than to offer impartial information if needed.

If the City employee is to be part of a panel of speakers, the facilitator should announce that the employee involved may not advocate on work time and is only there to provide impartial information.

If the employee is attending a campaign event in a personal capacity and not attending on work time or in their official capacity, they may themselves announce that they are participating on their own time, representing themselves, and so not subject to these restrictions. 

See ORS 260.432.

How do I determine whether material is campaign advocacy?

Refer to the Secretary of State's publication, Restrictions on Political Campaigning by Public Employees. Some factors considered in making the determination of whether the material is advocacy include:

  • Timing of the publication
  • Explicitly urging a yes or no vote
  • Balance of factual information
  • Overall impression
  • Tone of the publication
  • Personalization
  • Use the words "will" or "need"
  • Headings, other words or phrases that lend a positive (or negative) tone
  • Quotes about the measure
  • Formatting used to emphasize (or de-emphasize) information
  • Phrases similar to campaign slogans
  • Contact information for political committees
  • Inclusion of an elected official’s position on the measure

The City Attorney can also provide guidance in determining whether material may be considered advocacy.

See ORS 260.432.


Have additional questions? Please contact the City Elections Office at elections@portlandoregon.gov or 503-865-6503.