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Federal and State Lobbying and Ethics Regulations

Interaction with government officials is vital to Carnegie Mellon. Such interactions are integral to fulfilling the university’s research and education mission and our goal of impacting the world. In order to help you comply with the various laws regulating and related to interacting with government officials, we have prepared the following outline.

More detailed information and guidance is available by contacting Tim McNulty Associate Vice President for Government Relations, 426 Warner Hall, 412-268-7778, tpm@andrew.cmu.edu

There are three key elements of state and federal rules for all CMU employees to be aware of:

1. Carnegie Mellon must report on its lobbying activities to both the state and federal governments following each quarter (at the end of April, July, October, and January) on all lobbying expenses – including paid lobbyists, travel expenses related to lobbying activity and the cost of staff and faculty hours dedicated to lobbying. Additionally, these expenses must be detailed in the university’s annual filings of 990 IRS forms.

Lobbying is defined as any effort to influence an elected or administrative employee of government on a matter that will have an economic impact on the university. Here are some examples of lobbying and non-lobbying activities to guide you:

  • You are meeting with an agency program manager to learn about an upcoming competitive proposal. This is not lobbying.
  • A Congressional staffer or agency staffer calls or emails you to review a paper you wrote and asks you to present your findings to her boss. This is not lobbying.
  • You are attending a professional society meeting in Washington and join your colleagues in meetings with Congressional staff to advocate more funding to NSF. Great! But this is lobbying. The university needs to capture a portion of your time and travel in its quarterly lobbying report and identify the agency and/or Congressional committee that is the focus of the lobbying in its reporting.
  • You invite a government official to serve as an advisor for a student project team. This is not lobbying.
  • You ask an agency to financially sponsor a student project team. This is lobbying and will need to be included in our state or federal report no matter whether the funding is received or not.
  • You are officially appointed to a committee to recommend funding priorities for a DOD or NSF program or a state agency panel. This is not lobbying.
  • You are invited to testify before a Congressional or state committee. This is not lobbying. Assistance to help you prepare for this great oppotunity is available from both the Office of Government Relations andother university offices. Just ask. 
  • You have a chance to pitch a Congressman or the Governor on an idea for a new center. Great! Some of CMU’s most significant initiatives started just this way, but this is lobbying and must be included in our reports.

Other scenarios? Just ask! Having to report a lobbying activity does not automatically mean that you will need to be registered as a lobbyist. In fact, it is very unlikely that your activity would require actual registration. For federal lobbying registration you must devote 20% of your time in any given quarter to lobbying including time spent developing materials or other preparation. For state regulations, the requirement is 20 hours in any one quarter. Even though you may not ever meet this threshold individually, the university must still report on all lobbying activities and expenses.

2. Carnegie Mellon must comply with all federal, state and local restrictions on gifts, travel and hospitality.

  • Carnegie Mellon and its employees cannot provide gifts, travel, lodging or meals (except coffee and light snacks such as doughnuts etc.) to any federal employee—including members of Congress, their staff, federal agency officials and members of the armed services. Inadvertently offering gifts that would not comply with federal gift rules puts federal employees in an awkward position of having to refuse or return them or potentially creates an embarrassing scenario of our having to contact them later on and ask for the gift to be returned or reimbursed.
  • Exceptions include gifts under $10 to Senate staff or under $20 to House or federal agency employees (and which do not exceed $50 total from any single source per year) and meals provided as part of widely attended events (such as a workshop or conference with open broad attendance).
  • If you have federal visitors for meetings that include a meal, here are some important tips:
    • Provide an agenda in advance that highlights the meal and the expected cost.
    • Provide receipt for payment to CMU at the beginning of the session.
    • Forward cash or check reimbursements to your business manager to record. Your business manager can also provide you with the federal per diem for the specific agency or branch of service to guide your menu selection. Keep in mind that if the cost of the meal exceed the federal perdiem your visitor will have to pay the extra out of her own pocket.
  • Carnegie Mellon and its faculty and staff can provide meals and hospitality to state elected officials and employees but we must report each expenditure every quarter and track expenditures to for each individual throughout the year since a total payment by the university of $600 or more in a calendar year requires additional reporting. Make sure you forward a record of each expenditure to the Office of Government Relations immediately after the meeting or event. Forms for this reporting are available here. Note – if you are involved in an activity in a state other than Pennsylvania, other rules may apply for contact with state and local officials. Please contact the Office of Government Relations to review possible restrictions immediately.
  • There are very few exceptions to the prohibition on providing gifts of any kind to city and county officials and employees. 

3. Political campaigns bring excitement to campus and contribute to a great educational experience for our students. CMU can be a site for campaign activities and events but the following rules apply:

  • Faculty can invite a candidate to speak to a class, but IRS regulations governing not-for-profit institutions necessitate that we must extend a comparable invitation to all other candidates. The Office of Government Relations would be happy to work with you on meeting this requirement. 
  • We are eager for political campaigns to have formal campaign events on campus but we must charge a fair market rate for facilities and other expenses and offer similar opportunities to all other campaigns. Again, if you can help bring a candidate to campus, Government Relations is very happy to work with you and support your efforts.  
  • Engagement with political campaigns is one sign of the community spirit of our faculty, students and staff. We cannot, however, use university supplies or resources for campaigns or ever convey a university endorsement of any candidate. If you volunteer to be on a campaign committee and use your CMU title next to your name, the publication must include the following: “titles are provided for identification purposes only.” You should take great care to stress in an endorsement or an event that you are never speaking on behalf of the university. 
Thank you for your diligence in helping CMU to comply with these legal provisions and your efforts to advance the university’s mission.

References

House Ethics Rules
Senate Ethics Rules
DOJ Federal Gift Rules Handbook
Federal Office of Government Ethics
NSF Employee Ethics Rules
NIH Employee Ethics Rules
DOD Ethics Rules