Any use of the California State PTA name for electoral activity requires prior authorization from the California State PTA. No activity engaged in by any unit, council or district PTA should suggest or imply the support of the National PTA or California State PTA (Nonpartisan Policy 1.3.3; 4.2.5i Policy 9).
PTAs may not directly or indirectly participate or intervene in political campaigns on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office since this activity can endanger the PTA's nonprofit status.
Restrictions on Lobbying
PTAs, as tax exempt organizations, cannot support or oppose political parties or candidates, including those running for school boards and nonpartisan slates. Participation in these types of activities will endanger the organization's nonprofit status with the IRS (Nonpartisan Policy 1.3.3, 16).
Since elected officials' decisions significantly affect the well being of children and youth, it is a PTA responsibility to disseminate as much factual, objective information as possible during election campaigns to help the community make informed choices. Questioning all candidates during an election campaign does not violate the National PTA nonpartisan policy (Nonpartisan Policy 1.3.3, 16).
PTA never endorses a candidate, but does take positions on issues that affect children and youth.
Form a committee.
Determine whether PTA will sponsor the forum alone or with another nonpartisan organization, such as the League of Women Voters or a branch of the American Association of University Women.
Set the date and obtain a facility that is centrally located, if possible.
Draft invitations to candidates. Be sure to include:
- Complete information on date, time, and place;
- Rules of the forum (e.g., there will be only written questions, time allowed for candidates' responses);
- Rules prohibiting campaign literature distribution at forum;
- A request for any information needed from the candidate for promotion of the forum;
- Name, address, and telephone number of person to contact to confirm acceptance or to ask for further information; and
- Deadline for the candidate to respond.
Obtain home addresses of all candidates and send invitations by certified mail with a return receipt requested. The signed, returned receipts should be kept on file.
Provide adequate seating and accessibility for attendees.
Seating for candidates should be in the form of a head table, preferably elevated so they are visible to the audience. The table also should be draped.
Adequate sound system with microphones available to rotate between the candidates should be separate one for the moderator.
There should be tables for any refreshments and for any literature pertaining to the forum, such as agendas or programs. Campaign literature should be distributed only outside the facility, not inside.
Also provide a table for screeners of written questions and a podium/lectern for the moderator. Provide the moderator with a stool to sit on while candidates are speaking.
Greeters for both candidates and attendees.
Moderator - try to secure a person residing outside of the voting area.
Screeners of questions - recommend one community person such as an attorney, one PTA representative with no personal ties to any candidate, and one other person from the co-sponsoring organization or from the community.
Timers - one to keep track of time and one to hold up signs to signal candidates.
Person to open the forum and lead the Pledge of Allegiance - may be the moderator or president of the sponsoring organization(s).
People to hand out blank index cards, pick up questions and deliver them to the screeners.
Publicity - articles for the newspaper, radio announcements, cable announcements, flyers for PTA newsletters, etc.
Attendees should be given blank index cards as they enter on which to write questions for the candidates. Each index card should be used for only one question and indicate to whom the question is directed. A question may be directed to one or all candidates.
Pledge of Allegiance and welcome.
Moderator should go over the rules:
- Each candidate may have a one- to two-minute opening speech and a one- to two-minute closing speech.
- All questions will be in writing.
- All questions will be screened for appropriateness.
- If a question is directed to a specific candidate, he or she will have two minutes to respond. All other candidates may have one minute to respond if they so desire.
- If a question is directed to all candidates each candidate will have one minute to respond. (The moderator should rotate the order in which he or she calls on the candidates.)
Timers should hold up signs to signal speakers:
- Green: start
- Yellow: 30 seconds left
The moderator should state that there would be no verbal interaction between the audience and the candidates during the forum. The forum is neutral territory for a sharing of philosophy, ideas and information, not campaigning.
Begin forum. While candidates are giving their opening statements, screeners can begin sorting questions to be asked of the candidates. After the opening statements, the moderator asks the candidates the audience's screened questions.
End of forum. Moderator or other designee should close and thank everyone for attending, reminding him or her of the voting date.
EVALUATION OF SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES
All citizens should evaluate each candidate being considered for a position on the school board carefully. PTA encourages its members to be informed about the issues affecting the health, welfare, education, and safety of all children and youth and to become familiar with the positions of the candidates on those issues. PTA members are not prohibited from running for public office themselves.
All candidates, particularly non-incumbents, should participate in candidates' forums, interviews and other neighborhood and community events. This gives the voters the opportunity to become familiar with the candidates' positions and to observe the candidates' reactions under the pressure of questioning. Incumbent school board members should be observed constantly as they conduct the business of the school district.
Does the candidate have
A commitment to public education and its importance as a foundation for democracy?
An understanding of the Constitutional principle of separation of church and state and its relevance to school district policy decisions?
A position of respect and recognized involvement/ leadership in the community?
An unselfish interest in the public schools, in the community, and in every child?
Is the candidate
A resident of the school district?
Informed about school board functions, policies and responsibilities?
Familiar with the schools in the district and with the basic issues facing education?
Knowledgeable about the role of the school board as it relates to the administration of the school district?
Does the candidate
Know the boundaries and demography of the school district?
Know that leadership involves working with and understanding the needs, expectations and concerns of the parent and business community?
Have an understanding of the legislative process?
Understand the commitment of time and energy required to be an effective school board member?
CANDIDATES ' QUESTIONNAIRES
Develop a list of questions to send to all candidates, and publish their responses in their entirety in unit, council and district PTA newsletters, adhering to school district policies for distribution.
Do not edit any of the responses. One may, however, request that responses be limited to a certain number of words, to ensure all responses are of similar length.
Questionnaires must be sent by certified mail with return receipt requested to all candidates; these receipts should be retained for one year after the election. Any candidates not responding should be so noted in the published materials.
School Bonds and Other Ballot Measure Campaigns
PTAs may be asked to help secure the passage of a school bond or local parcel tax election or to participate in campaigns to pass or defeat other election ballot measures. Unit, council and district PTA may participate in these efforts when the board and/or membership has voted to support such a campaign.
PTAs can be most effective by:
- Taking an active role in planning the campaign.
- Providing personnel to inform the community (speakers, etc.).
- Developing and/or distributing available campaign material-but not by using student help, unless permitted by the school district (California State PTA Legislation Policies and Procedure No. 11, 4.2.5k, 126).
- Making use of radio, TV, and print media, including newsletters, editorial board visits, letters to the editor, and other communication resources such as PTA e-mail and Web pages.
LEGAL GUIDELINES FOR CAMPAIGN ACTIVITY
The California State PTA and all of its constituent organizations are classified as tax-exempt nonprofit organizations under the federal Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3). State and federal laws place certain requirements and restrictions on lobbying and election-related activities and expenditures by such organizations. A PTA that participates in influencing or attempting to influence specific legislation or voter action for the passage or defeat of any ballot measure must comply with both the federal IRS regulations and the California state laws and reporting requirements.
California law establishes procedures and requirements for filing reports on election campaign expenses. A PTA that participates in a campaign to pass or defeat any ballot measure must file a report with the State of California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) if its total campaign expendi-tures (including both monetary and in-kind con-tributions) reach $1000 or more. Most PTAs are unlikely to have expenditures high enough to require reporting under California law, but it is wise to carefully account for all PTA expenditures made for any legislative purpose. Contact the district PTA president or the State office if there are questions about how the California reporting laws might affect the PTA.
To retain its IRS tax-exempt status and continue to receive tax-deductible contributions, a PTA may not participate in any type of political campaign or other activity on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for any public office or devote more than an insubstantial part of its activity and expenditures to influence the outcome of ballot measures and other legislation (School Bond and Other Ballot Measure Campaigns 4.3.3, 129). The IRS regulations do not define "insubstantial," but it is generally interpreted to mean five percent or less of the organization's total expenditures and activities.