Political Activity Guide

Introduction

The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter contains a provision that, among other things, prohibits City officials and employees from engaging in activity aimed at promoting or opposing the success of a political party or the nomination or election of particular candidates at primary, general, or special elections.  This provision is Section 10-107 of the Charter, the text of which is printed at the end of this Guide.  To assist City officers and employees in informing themselves of what they may and may not do in terms of political activity, we have prepared this guide.

Charter Section 10-107 is not intended to apply to activities related to non-political ballot questions, and does not restrict the right of employees to vote or to privately express their political opinions.  A civil service regulation, Regulation 29, spells out in detail the activities permitted and prohibited to civil service employees, and this regulation has been read to be an accurate guide to how Charter Section 10-107 would be interpreted to non-civil service officers and employees, as well.  The text of the lists of permitted and prohibited activities contained in Regulation 29 is also printed at the end of this guide.

The text of Charter Section 10-107 and Regulation 29 do not answer all the questions that may arise, however.  In order to address other concerns, a Question-and-Answer format seems appropriate.  It should be noted that statements below regarding the limits of application of Section 10-107 do not apply to subsections (1) and (2) which begin "No person shall..." and therefore apply to any person, whether or not a City official or employee.


Question: Does Section 10-107 apply to members of City boards and commissions?

Answer: Section 10-107 does not apply to unpaid members of City boards and commissions nor to those members whose compensation for such service is $40 per meeting or less.  The provision also may not apply to some boards for which the compensation is above that figure, but no precise dividing line has been set.  Individual questions should be addressed to the City Solicitor for interpretation.


Question: Does Section 10-107 apply to elected officials?

Answer: Yes, except for one subsection.  There are two principal substantive subsections of Section 10-107. Subsection (3) relates to political contributions and fund-raising, and applies to all City officers and employees, including elected officials and officers and employees of other governmental agencies who are paid out of the City Treasury.  Subsection (4) relates to taking part in political parties, clubs, and campaigns in activities other than fund-raising, and applies only to appointed officers and employees of the City, thus not elected officials.


Question: How does Section 10-107 apply to employees of elected officials?

Answer: Generally, employees of the City who are appointed by elected officials are subject to all the provisions of Section 10-107 in the same way as other appointed employees.  Under a 1953 Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion, employees of the following former county elected officers are also subject to Section 10-107: City Commissioners, Clerk of Quarter Sessions, District Attorney, and Sheriff.  Employees of the Prothonotary and Register of Wills, however, are not subject to Section 10-107.  Employees of elected officials do not generally share the elected officials’ exemption, noted in the preceding question, from the application of Subsection (4), relating to activities other than fund-raising.  There is one exception.  Under a 1952 Opinion of the City Solicitor, Subsection (4) does not apply to employees of City Council.  That opinion, however, clearly addresses Council as a unique body in its position as the Legislative Branch of the City, and thus the opinion cannot be - and has not been - read to exempt the employees of any other elected officials from the application of Section 10-107(4).


Question: Does Section 10-107 apply to attorneys in the District Attorney’s Office?

Answer: Yes.  See Com. ex rel. Specter v. Moak, 452 Pa. 482 (1973).


Question: Does Section 10-107 apply to employees of authorities?

Answer: Except for Subsections (1) and (2), which apply to any person, the provision does not apply to employees of authorities.  Subsections (3), (4), (5), and (6) generally apply to officers and employees of the City.  Authorities are creations of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and therefore their employees are not employees of the City and are not subject to those subsections.  (Subsection (3) also applies to any "officer or employee of any governmental agency whose salary is paid from the City Treasury," but this does not apply to authorities either.)


Question: Does Section 10-107 apply to employees and officers on leave of absence?

Answer: Yes.  It has also occasionally been asked whether an employee may resign in order to engage in political activity and then be re-hired.  Although an employee who has resigned is no longer a City employee and thus not subject to Section 10-107(3) and (4), it should be noted that an employee who resigns has no guarantee of re-employment, absent a specific agreement, and such an agreement--if executed for the purpose of evading Section 10-107--would be against public policy.  That is, an employee may not resign merely for a short period of time in order to work on a political campaign with the understanding that after completion of his political activity, he would be re-hired.


Question: Does Section 10-107 apply to the School District and the Courts?

Answer: No.  The School District is not directly governed by the Charter, and has its own policy; the Courts are not subject to the Charter, but have adopted their own rules.


Question: Does the prohibition in Section 10-107(3) against soliciting money refer only to direct, personal requests for contributions?

Answer: No.  Clearly, if a person sits at the dais of an event that has been advertised as a fund-raiser for a political campaign and that person then makes a speech that explicitly asks the attendees to contribute money to the campaign, that is soliciting money for the campaign.  At the other extreme, merely attending such an event would not be a solicitation.  Similarly, where an invitation to such a fund-raiser is sent out under the letterhead of a campaign finance committee, any person listed as a member of the committee would be soliciting money.  On the other hand, where the event is not clearly identified as a fund-raiser (but contributions may be accepted) and the letterhead identifies the person as some other kind of supporter (such as a prior contributor but not a member of any kind of organizing committee), or where the organization sending the letter is generally not political in purpose and lists its board on its letterhead, that would be a closer question that should be referred, along with other relevant facts, to the City Solicitor, preferably in advance of the letter being sent out.


Question: What about activities for non-partisan organizations?

Answer: Participation in activities that are not addressed to further the success of a particular candidate or political party are not prohibited.  For example, actions to support a vote on a ballot question are non-partisan.  So are "get out the vote" drives, but only if such drives are structured so as to be addressed to all voters, regardless of political affiliation, and are not connected with any partisan purpose.


Question: Where an elected official is running for re-election, does Section 10-107 prohibit any employee of that official from making any public comments that may been seen as suggesting that the official is deserving of the support of the voters?

Answer: City employees who work for elected officials are not rendered mute in any public discussion of their work during the official’s reelection campaign.  However, City employees may not actively campaign for the officials who appointed them (except for employees of City Council, under the 1952 City Solicitor’s Opinion cited earlier in this memorandum).  Employees who contemplate appearing at a public event on behalf of an official who is running for office, or his or her Department, should seek the advice of the City Solicitor before the event.


Question: Is any law violated if a City employee allows someone else to pay his required contribution so that he may attend a political dinner or other event?

Answer: Mere attendance is not a prohibited political activity, as noted in the lists cited below.  Allowing another to pay your admission fee, however, would constitute receipt of a gift, the value of which would be the amount of the required contribution.  If this amount exceeded $100 for the event (or, in the case of multiple events, if it exceeded $100 in the aggregate from the same source), it could be a prohibited gift for members of the Administrative and Executive Branch under Mayor’s Executive Order 16-92.  Gifts received by other City officials and employees may be prohibited under the Ethics Code.  As with other questions, the facts should be referred to the City Solicitor.


Question: Does the above answer change if the employee attends a fund-raiser as a guest of the host and therefore no contribution is paid?

Answer: No.


Question: Does Section 10-107 apply to political activities on behalf of candidates in other cities or states?

Answer: Yes.  The provision does not make any distinction for political activities on behalf of candidates or regarding elections taking place in any other jurisdiction.


Question: When does a City official or employee become a "candidate" for purposes of when he or she must resign his or her current City position?

Answer: The courts have ruled that a person becomes a candidate when he or she files nomination papers or publicly announces candidacy for office.  Merely indicating willingness and availability to run do not make one a candidate.


Question: May City employees contribute money to political campaigns?

Answer: In general, yes, employees may make political contributions.  The exception, as spelled out in Section 10-107(3), is that officers or members of the Police and Fire Departments may not make political contributions.


Question: My spouse, who is not a City employee, is supporting a political candidate and wants to host a campaign fund-raiser in our home.  Is this permitted, and may I attend?

Answer: You may attend a campaign fund-raiser if you are not involved in planning or managing it, and you make no appeal for funds at the event.  You are not responsible for the political activities of your spouse.  Accordingly, if your spouse plans and hosts an event in your home, you may attend.  However, it must be very clear that it is the non-City employee spouse who is hosting this event.  A sham transaction of arranging for one’s spouse to appear to be the host in order to avoid the political activity restrictions will not be permitted.


Question: May City employees serve as volunteers at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000?

Answer: Truly non-partisan volunteer work at a political convention is permissible, just as City employees may attend, but not be a delegate to, a political convention.  However, such volunteer service must involve activities that are themselves nonpolitical.  For example, volunteers may distribute maps of the City and tourism pamphlets, direct conventioneers to locations within the First Union Center, serve as ushers, assist with registration and ticket-taking, serve as security and crowd control, serve as drivers, and set up chairs and decorations (but not posters with political slogans or names or pictures of candidates) in the Center.  Volunteers must perform any such volunteer service on their own time, not on City time.  In addition, volunteers should scrupulously avoid any activity that is geared toward the success of a particular candidate or political party in general.

Examples of activities that volunteers should avoid include: wearing campaign buttons or articles of clothing supporting a particular party or candidate (a combination of red, white, and blue is not in itself political); selling any item or participating in any way in the receipt of any money which is for the benefit of the RNC or any partisan political group; organizing or participating in any "demonstration" or parade in favor of any candidate at the convention; distributing any partisan political material that supports a particular candidate or party, even if only given to delegates at the convention; serve as a spokesperson or media representative for the party or the convention; or participating in any way in the planning of the events of the convention.


Conclusion

Most questions involving political activities by either civil service or exempt employees and officers of the City may be answered by careful reference to the list of permissible and prohibited activities cited in this memorandum.  Officers or employees with questions not clearly answered by reference to this memorandum should seek the advice, before acting, of the City Solicitor.


Controlling Provisions

  1. Section 10-107 of the Home Rule Charter reads in its entirety as follows:

    Section 10-107. Political Activites.

    1. No person shall seek or attempt to use any political endorsement in connection with any appointment to a position in the civil service.

    2. No person shall, for the purpose of influencing the vote or political action of any person, or for any consideration, use or promise to use, directly or indirectly, any official authority or influence, whether possessed or anticipated, to secure or attempt to secure for any person an appointment or advantage in appointment to a position in the civil service, or an increase in pay or other advantage in employment in any such position.

    3. No officer or employee of the City and no officer or employee of any governmental agency whose compensation is paid from the City Treasury shall, from any person, and no officer or member of a committee of any political party or club shall, from any civil service employee, directly or indirectly demand, solicit, collect or receive, or be in any manner concerned in demanding, soliciting, collecting or receiving, any assessment, subscription or contribution, whether voluntary or involuntary, intended for any political purpose whatever. No officer or member of the Philadelphia Police or of the Fire Department shall pay or give any money or valuable thing or make any subscription or contribution, whether voluntary or involuntary, for any political purpose whatever.

    4. No appointed officer or employee of the City shall be a member of any national, state or local committee of a political party, or an officer or member of a committee of a partisan political club, or take any part in the management or affairs of any political party or in any political campaign, except to exercise his right as a citizen privately to express his opinion and to cast his vote.

    5. No officer or employee of the City, except elected officers running for re-election, shall be a candidate for nomination or election to any public office unless he shall have first resigned from his then office or employment.

    6. Any officer or employee of the City who violates any of the foregoing provisions of this section shall, in addition to any penalties provided for hereafter, be ineligible for one year for any office or position under the City.

  2. Regulation 29.  The Law Department has several times opined that Civil Service Regulation 29, although not directly applicable, is instructive as to how Charter §10-107 would be interpreted for exempt employees.  Thus, the lists of permissible and prohibited activities delineated in Regulation 29 apply not only to civil service employees, but also represent the Law Department’s interpretation of the application of Charter Section 10-107 to exempt employees.  For convenience, the lists are reprinted here (revised somewhat to eliminate references that apply only to civil service employees):

    PERMISSIBLE ACTIVITIES.  The following are activities permissible under Section 10-107 of the City Charter. An officer or employee of the City may voluntarily:

    • Cast his vote at any election.

    • Express privately his opinions on any political candidate.

    • Be a member of a political party, club or organization.

    • Be a member or officer or participate in the activities of non-partisan civic organizations.

    • Sign any petition.

    • Initiate or circulate petitions provided that such petitions are not identified with a political party, or body, or partisan political club and do not call for the nomination or election of particular candidates to public or party office.

    • Unless he is a uniformed or investigatory officer or employee of the Fairmount Park Commission, Police or Fire Departments, make voluntary contributions for political purposes.

    • Participate in the public debate of questions which may be submitted to referendum vote or of other issues of public interest, provided such activity is not in support of any political party or body or partisan political club, and is not identified with any particular political party, body or candidate.

    • Attend as a spectator any political meeting or convention.

    • Attend dinners or social functions of a political character.

    • Address any meeting, dinner or social function on local, state or national issues that are not particularly identified with any particular political party, body or candidate and do not call for the nomination or election of any candidate to public or party office.

    • Distribute printed matter, badges or buttons in support of any political issue provided that such issue is not identified with any particular political party, body or candidate and does not call for the nomination or election of any particular candidate to public or party office.

    • Participate in any non-partisan campaign for the registration of voters.


    PROHIBITED POLITICAL ACTIVITIES.   The following are political activities prohibited by Subsections (3), (4) and (5) of Section 10-107 of the City Charter. An officer or employee of the City shall not:

    • Be an officer or member of a committee of a political party or body.

    • Be an officer or member of a committee of a partisan political club or organization.

    • Address, make motions, prepare or assist in preparing resolutions, maintain records or take any other active part in a meeting or convention of a political party or partisan political club.

    • Initiate or circulate public petitions, or canvass for the signatures of others, if such petitions are identified with or call for the nomination or election of any particular candidate to public or party office.

    • Distribute printed matter, badges or buttons in support of any candidate for public or party office or political party or body.

    • Wear on his person or display badges, emblems, signs, posters and the like which are in favor of or against a political party, body or candidate.

    • Participate in or help organize a political parade.

    • Solicit money from any person for the support of any issue, for the support of any political party or body, or for the support of any political purpose that is identified with or calls for the nomination or election or any particular candidate to public or party office.

    • Arrange, or help to arrange a public meeting, rally, dinner, or social function of a political character.

    • Sell or distribute tickets for sale for political meetings or dinners.

    • Serve at party headquarters or otherwise engage in campaign activities on behalf of a party or candidate in any political campaign or election.

    • Write for publication or publish any letter or article, signed or unsigned, in favor of or against any political party, body or candidate for public office.

    • Engage in transportation of voters to the polls on election day on behalf of any candidate or party.

    • Act as the accredited watcher of any political party, body or candidate, or engage in any political activity at the polls except the casting of his own vote.

    • If a uniformed or investigatory member of the Fairmount Park Commission, Police or Fire Departments, make any contribution of money or any valuable thing, whether voluntary or involuntary, for any political purpose whatever.

    • Be eligible to continue his City employment if he shall become a candidate for nomination or for election to any public office. Any City employee who shall become a candidate for a nomination or election to any public office shall be considered to have resigned his City employment.

    • Give any consideration to the political affiliation of any person in making appointments under the provisions of these regulations.

    • Directly or indirectly use or promise or threaten to use the authority or influence of his position in order to coerce or influence the vote of any person.

    • Directly or indirectly use or promise to use the authority or influence of his position in order to dismiss, promote or demote, or in any manner change the official rank or compensation of any employee or promise or threaten to do so for withholding or refusing to make any contribution of money or service or other valuable thing in support of or in opposition to any political party, body or candidate for public office or issue.

    • Directly or indirectly use or promise to use the authority or influence of his position in order to coerce or influence an employee to pay or promise to pay any assessment, subscription or contribution in support of or in opposition to any political party, body or candidate for public office or issue.

    • Address any rally, dinner or social function of a political character on any subject that is identified with or calls for the nomination or election of any candidate to public or party office.

    • Participate in a campaign of a political party for registration of voters in that party.

    • Perform any of those activities referred to as "Permissible Activities" above during his scheduled hours of employment for the City of Philadelphia. Those activities referred to as "Prohibited Political Activities" above are not permitted before, during and after hours work for the City.

    • By collusion or indirection through another person attempt to accomplish any activity prohibited by the above list.


From: City of Philadelphia City Solicitor

 

The City of Philadelphia is an Equal Opportunity Employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, religion, age or disability.