The following compilation of policies affects Student Organizations wishing to engage in political actions. If at any time an organization is unsure of compliance with these policies, please contact the Center for Leadership & Involvement (608-263-0365), Associated Students of Madison (608-265-2272), or the UW-Madison Office of Legal Affairs (608) 263-7400.
Political campaign activity: Political campaign activity includes solicitation of campaign contributions; service in furtherance of candidates, political parties, and political action committees; advocating a particular position on a referendum; and also promoting action on issues which have become highly identified as dividing issues between candidates for public office at the local, state, or federal level.
- Political event: a political event includes, but is not limited to, a program, debate, or public forum featuring candidates for public office or political campaign issues.
- Political fundraising: an event or activity during which individuals or groups are asked to contribute to a political candidate, party, or committee.
Political Campaign Activity
As a private citizen, you and your organization are free to engage in political activities on your own time and with your own resources. You may not use university resources to engage in political campaign activities at any time. University resources include, but are not limited to:
- UW–Madison logos and trademarks
- Office supplies provided by UW–Madison
- UW–Madison owned photocopiers
- UW–Madison telephones and telephone lines
- UW–Madison websites
- UW–Madison facilities
As a Registered Student Organization you are permitted to engage in political campaign activity on campus, so long as you do so in public areas (subject to time, place, and manner limitations), or in a location that has been approved by the University for such activity.
Political Events on Campus
RSOs may host non-partisan events to encourage voter education and participation, such as candidate forums and voter registration efforts. These activities must be non-partisan for the sole purpose of voter education.
Visits from local, state and national political candidates can enhance the educational experience by engaging students on public affairs. Academic departments and Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) may, under certain circumstances, host events featuring political candidates on campus. Those wishing to host such events should be aware of laws and campus policies (particularly Facility Use Policy P6) that must be followed as well as resources available to assist in organizing a successful event.
These events have the potential to draw a large crowd and involve significant operational and security logistics that require advanced planning. They may also result in disruption of classroom instruction, research and university administrative business.
Depending upon the type of event in which they participate, candidates may be limited in the number of appearances they can make on campus under Facility Use Policy P6. It’s important for the university to apply its policies fairly and consistently to all candidates. In order to do so, the university must be aware of the types of events that are being hosted.
Hosting Events Featuring Political Candidates on Campus
Below are questions to consider and steps to take as you plan your event.
Is this a classroom visit?
Instructors may invite political candidates to a class, provided the visit is for a demonstrable educational purpose related to the class in question and does not include campaign activity (e.g., signing up volunteers, handing out campaign material). Such visits are not subject to the limitation on the number of visits set out in Facility Use Policy P6. When possible, instructors are encouraged to invite other candidates in that election to provide equal time.
For all other events:
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Is this event intended for the campus community only or for the general public (including news media)?
This is important to determine early on.
Campus community only – Registered student organizations (RSOs) may only use university facilities for events that are primarily for students, faculty, and staff. All publicity for these events must state that attendance is limited to students, faculty and staff and is not open to the public. RSOs can host political candidates an unlimited number of times as long as attendance is limited to students, faculty and staff.
Open to the general public/news media – If an RSO wishes to host an event open to the general public and/or news media, the RSO must obtain a departmental sponsor (for example, the Department of Political Science or the Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy).
Events that are sponsored by academic units may be open to the general public and/or news media if the sponsor chooses. If the event is open to the public/news media, the organizer must notify UWPD and University Communications and, if an RSO, the Center for Leadership & Involvement.
Is the speaker a declared candidate for office?
What are the limits on the number of candidate appearances?
Under Facility Use Policy P6, each candidate or their surrogate (a person affiliated with the candidate who is engaging in campaign activity on the candidate’s behalf) may appear at a public event on campus once during the primary election and once during the general election. In addition, political parties engaging in campaign activity may hold one public event on campus for state-level candidates and one for national-level candidates during the primary election and again during the general election.
Please note that these limits do not apply to events that are hosted by RSOs where attendance is limited to students, faculty and staff.
What if the speaker is not a declared candidate for office or a surrogate?
What if it’s only a small event with a short speech and questions from students?
The size and duration of the event does not matter. If the invited guest is a declared candidate for any office or their surrogate, the policies and limits apply. This includes, but is not limited to, a presentation, meet ‘n greet, speech, question and answer session, debate, or public forum featuring candidates for public office or political campaign issues.
Is this a debate or forum involving multiple candidates?
All legally qualified candidates must be invited and given an equal opportunity to speak and participate. Permissible activities include speeches, question-and-answer sessions, debates, or similar activities. A statement should be given that the university does not endorse nor oppose any of the candidates.
What campus spaces can an RSO reserve for a political event?
Campus Event Services works with RSOs to find spaces that meet their needs. The spaces that can be reserved can be found here. The rules for using university facilities for political purposes must be followed. Following the submission of a space request, all events are subject to a security and logistics assessment and may be required to relocate or reschedule to ensure an appropriate space.
Can an RSO or academic unit host a fundraiser for the candidate on campus?
No. Any event that asks for a contribution to a candidate or political party is prohibited on campus by state law.
Can an RSO or academic department use a university logo on flyers and social media posts to promote the event?
Yes. Any publicity about the event must also clearly note the name(s) of the sponsor(s) of the event. Political candidates and campaign organizations may not use logos or other university marks.
Can an RSO or academic unit use a picture of Bucky Badger or the Motion W to promote the event?
No. These are spirit/athletic symbols and not appropriate for academic or related activities.
Is the event likely to draw a crowd (more than 50 people)?
If so, then you’ll want to consider several factors, including:
- Minimum turnaround time for planning an event with a large crowd
- Crowd estimate and room capacity required
- Should you reserve an overflow room?
- Will you need a separate space for a meet and greet before or after the event?
- How will you control attendance to avoid exceeding room capacity – for example, will free tickets be issued?
- Security questions – contact UWPD
- Number of volunteers needed to staff the event
- Audiovisual needs (including livestreaming)
- Media/communications plan – contact University Communications
- Putting together a detailed “Run of Show” outlining the full event
- Possibility of disruption and how to handle it – contact UWPD and the Office of Student Conduct & Community Standards
State law strictly prohibits the use of state-owned buildings for political fundraising. In accordance with UW System Financial and Administrative Policies (F50) and consistent with campaign finance law, student groups may not use segregated fees to make direct gifts, contributions, or donations to political campaigns or candidates.
Use of Segregated fees for posters, ads, or t-shirts
Student organizations may use segregated fees to support their own expressive activities and views on public policy issues and other interests, as long as the item could not be considered a gift, contribution or donation to a campaign or candidate.
Examples of general acceptable items are posters, ads, and t-shirts. Questions about appropriate uses of segregated fees can be directed to the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) Funding Advisor (608) 890-0270.
Urging Students to Vote
Student organizations are encouraged to help educate and inform students about upcoming elections, including urging students to exercise their right to vote. Student organizations are also free to express their views about the parties and candidates, and to urge voting for particular parties or candidates, and to sponsor events for candidates so long as they comply with rules governing the use of university facilities.
Candidates and volunteers are subject to policies restricting canvassing in the residence halls. Currently all forms of political canvassing in the residence halls are prohibited. For more information, visit https://www.housing.wisc.edu/residencehalls-life-expectations.htm.
Residence hall organizations and registered student organizations may request the use of an information table to pass out literature to students.
Chalking may be used on University sidewalks; however, DO NOT use paint, oil-based chalk, indelible markers or spray chalk. Only chalk on flat services that are regularly exposed to rain; DO NOT chalk on streets, vertical services, or under covered locations.
For more information on University Guidelines:
For more information on Facility Use Guidelines:
In addition please note: If your organization holds federal tax-exempt status, your organization may be subject to additional restrictions on political activity.
Promoting Voter Education
As part of the Big Ten Voting Challenge, The University of Wisconsin- Madison is encouraging students to go out and vote. Student Organizations are to abide by political campaigning policies and regulations if/when encouraging students to vote. The Office of Legal Affairs is advising on any efforts made to make sure they are in compliance with all university policies and laws. If your organization is planning any activity around/related to voting please make sure to consult with an advisor or with the Center for Leadership & Involvement.
For more information on voting please visit https://vote.wisc.edu/ .
If your organization would like to put up posters on campus, chalk announcements on campus, or hand out leaflets to students, please take a look at our posting, chalking and leafletting policies. Please still consult about providing any information/resources on the subject of voting.