Honoring Legislators in an Election Year
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NAEYC affiliates and other early childhood education nonprofits can present an award at an event or in other ways honor a public official for his or her past service on behalf of children and families. If the individual you want to honor is not running for election or reelection, such an event presents no legal risks to your organization. However, during an election year, there are some special considerations to keep in mind:
- It is not a good idea to begin an award program for the first time in an election year. This is especially true if the award is being given to a candidate for office, since it may look as though the award was created to support the candidate’s campaign.
- If the public official you wish to honor has already announced that he or she is running for office, this poses a particular difficulty for your organization because the award may be perceived as an endorsement of the candidate.
- Honoring an incumbent legislator who is a candidate should generally be avoided, except when:
- The decision to present an award was made well before the official announced his or her candidacy
- The official is one of several honorees or awardees, some of whom are not candidates
- An incumbent legislator who is up for reelection may be invited to attend such an event as long as the gathering is not used as a campaign event.
- If you decide to honor an official who is running for office, you should not show favoritism in the guest list. Invite representatives of all political parties, and, if possible, invite all legislators who are running and those who are not.
- If you decide to honor an official who is running for office, all of your press statements should be reviewed carefully to make certain you do not suggest in your advertisements, emails, handouts, or other materials that you are endorsing the official for reelection.
- If you decide to honor an official who is running for office, be sure the event is not used as a campaign event. This means that an incumbent legislator who is a candidate must not use your event to solicit votes, to ask for volunteers, or to collect campaign contributions. Supporters of the candidate may not take these actions on the candidate’s behalf or carry signs supporting the candidate during your event.
These tips are adapted from the guide “The Do’s and Don’ts of Electoral Advocacy and Engaging Elected Officials” on the NAEYC website. You can search for the larger guide here.