Harvard Law School is committed to the free and open expression of ideas, and Harvard Law School’s institutional commitment to free expression applies with equal force in the context of electoral politics. Harvard Law School encourages members of the community—faculty and staff as well as students—to participate, in their personal capacities, in politics at all levels.
However, federal law provides that Harvard may not “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” This prohibition on Harvard’s direct and indirect institutional participation in partisan politics is expressed in Sections 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, as a condition that Harvard must satisfy in order to preserve and retain its status as a tax-exempt organization. In addition, the Federal Election Campaign Act (“FECA”) prohibits corporations from making direct and indirect “contributions” or “expenditures” in connection with a campaign or candidate. Contributions include services and anything of value.
Below is information based on guidance from Harvard’s Office of General Counsel on the applicability of FECA and Section 501(c)(3) to students’ proposed submission for credit of pro bono hours and written work relating to political campaign activities. For details regarding the School’s requirements for pro bono legal work, see Section I(K).
1. Pro Bono Credit
Harvard Law School’s current practice, which permits a student to receive credit towards the School’s pro bono requirement for legal work on campaigns for public office is reasonable. A student’s time spent volunteering for a political campaign may be credited toward the Harvard Law School pro bono service requirement under the following conditions:
a) As set forth in Harvard Law School policy, service on political campaigns should continue to be one of a broad array of service-related pro bono activities (including work for nonprofit organizations, charities, NGOs, government entities) from which students may freely choose.
b) Faculty and staff should take care not to steer students to a campaign as a means of satisfying the pro bono requirement.
c) Harvard Law School should administer the award of credit in an evenhanded, politically neutral manner.
d) Students, faculty and staff should not use University resources in undertaking the political activity.
2. Written Work Credit
The question whether Harvard Law School may award academic credit for written work relating to campaign activity presents more complications because work for academic credit is typically more likely to involve the use of Harvard resources, including faculty involvement and assistance. It is one thing for a student to receive writing supervision and credit for independently pursuing an issue that arose in connection with his or her campaign activity; it is another for a student to receive writing supervision and credit for work conducted for use by a campaign. Awarding of academic credit for written work drawing on campaign experience is appropriate, but only under the following conditions:
a) A student may receive academic credit for, and faculty may supervise, a writing project that arises out of campaign-related activities, provided the work is not directed by, prepared for, or to be submitted to a political campaign or any individual working with a campaign.
b) All written work submitted for academic credit must comply with the ordinary terms and conditions Harvard Law School imposes for granting writing credits, as stated in this Handbook.
c) Faculty and staff should take care not to steer students to a campaign as a means of obtaining writing credits.
d) Harvard Law School should administer the award of credit for written work in an evenhanded, politically neutral manner.
Finally, whether Harvard Law School would be viewed as participating indirectly or directly in a campaign will depend on the facts giving rise to the particular request. Additional guidance is available on the OGC website. Harvard’s OGC will discuss individual requests for guidance as they are presented.