Legal and Community Advocacy/Foundation Policy and Political Association Guideline

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Please note that this page is protected from editing in order to preserve an internal Wikimedia Foundation policy. If you have suggestions for the format or contents of the page, they are most welcome, but please add them to the talk page rather than editing. Thank you!

Frequently asked questions

Why are you writing this guideline now?
Since the SOPA blackout, we have had a number of requests come in for public affiliations regarding policy and political issues. The Wikimedia Foundation is not a political organization, but we recognize that there may be times where such associations should be considered. To make sure that the right parties are involved in that circumstance, we have created an internal guideline to clarify when and how the Wikimedia Foundation associates itself publicly on policy and political issues.
For whom is this guideline?
This guideline is for internal use by the Wikimedia Foundation. Because we understand that any political or policy affiliations will likely be of interest to the community, we are openly sharing these policies.
Is this the final version?
Yes and no. This guideline is final in that it is not a work-in-progress. However, we will amend, correct, and update this guideline as our needs and understanding evolve. Ideas espoused on the guideline's talk page will be taken into consideration for future updates.
Is this guideline binding?
No. Though we intend for this guideline to be our normal operating procedure, the Wikimedia Foundation reserves the right to take the best action as circumstances require. This guideline is not a contract or binding policy.

Introduction

This guideline addresses when and how the Wikimedia Foundation (“WMF”) should associate itself publicly on policy and political issues consistent with its mission. Policy and political issues include public support for or against proposed laws and executive actions, online backing for political initiatives, and partnerships with organizations to promote shared policy and political positions. This guideline covers requests to and actions by the WMF; it does not address independent community responses and initiatives in response to policy or political issues.[1]

The role of the WMF staff will vary according to the specific circumstances of each case, but the staff should defer to the established consensus of the community subject to legal, financial, and regulatory restrictions; the constraints of available staff resources; and the need to focus on the WMF annual and strategic plans as approved by the Board of Trustees.

Policy and Political Associations

This guideline addresses seven types of policy and political associations, including (1) a limited position letter, (2) public endorsement or critique, (3) limited trademark endorsement, (4) collaborative advocacy, (5) promotional use of website assets, (6) movement partnership, and (7) monetary support. Each is described below along with its associated standard of review and notification relating to staff, community, and the Board of Trustees (“Board”).

Limited position letter

We sign a limited letter that supports an advocacy position that has been discussed with the community.

  • Example: Joining a letter from the Digital Due Process coalition on Electronic Communications Privacy Act reform, after a general consultation on the issue.
Review and Approval
  • Staff: General Counsel (approval), Chief of Finance and Administration (approval), and Chief Communications Officer (consultation)
  • Community: Advocacy Advisory Group (consultation on letter or general position) and general notice (optionally, if appropriate)
  • Board: No review required

Public Endorsement or Critique

We inform our community about a policy or political issue or highlight another organization's work to support or criticize a policy or political cause.

  • Example: Blogging to highlight the work of the Center for Democracy and Policy in support of the rights of online editors.
  • Example: Summarizing on-wiki the weaknesses of a legislative bill affecting open source licensing.
Review and Approval
  • Staff: General Counsel (approval) and Chief Communications Officer (consultation)
  • Community: General notice
  • Board: No review required

Limited Trademark Endorsement

We permit another organization to use our name and trademarks in a limited way to promote a policy or political cause.

  • Example: Permitting Creative Commons to use our name and logo in a list of like-minded groups asking the Italian parliament to promote free licenses.
  • Example: Allowing Public Knowledge to issue a press release highlighting our support of their program to promote remedial orphan works legislation.
Review and Approval
  • Staff: General Counsel (approval), Chief of Finance and Administration (CFA) (approval), Chief Communications Officer (consultation), and Executive Director (approval)
  • Community: Advocacy Advisory Group (consultation), RfC (consultation if time permits), and General notice
  • Board: No review required

Note: A trademark license agreement will be required.

Collaborative Advocacy

We collaborate with another organization to take action on a particular policy or political question.

  • Example: Signing a petition started by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against Internet censorship.
Review and Approval
  • Staff: General Counsel (approval), CFA (approval), Chief Communications Officer (consultation), and Executive Director (approval)
  • Community: Advocacy Advisory Group (consultation), RfC (consultation if time permits), and General notice
  • Board: Possible consultation

Promotional Use of Website Assets

We (at WMF) employ Wikimedia website assets - such as banner space or a site black-out - to promote a policy or political cause.

  • Example: Creation of a banner to ask users to defeat SOPA II.
Review and Approval
  • Staff: General Counsel (approval), CFA (approval), Chief Communications Officer (consultation), Head of Technology (approval), and Executive Director (approval)
  • Community: Advocacy Advisory Group (consultation), RfC (consensus), and General notice
  • Board: Consultation

Movement Partnership

We promote a like-minded organization as a WMF “movement partner” because of a shared political or policy cause.

  • Example: Public listing of an organization as a “movement partner” such as Creative Commons because of its political support for free licensing.
Review and Approval
  • Staff: General Counsel (approval), CFA (approval), Chief Communications Officer (consultation), and Executive Director (approval)
  • Community: Advocacy Advisory Group (consultation), and RfC (consultation and possible consensus)
  • Board: Approval required

Note: The creation of movement partners is pursuant to Board resolution, so recognition is subject to the terms and conditions defined by movement roles.

Monetary Support

All requests for monetary support of policy and political associations should go through the Wikimedia Grants Program. (No requests should go through the FDC process.)

Review and Approval
  • Staff: General Counsel (approval), CFA (approval), Executive Director (approval), Chief Communications Officer (consultation), and grant staff (approval)
  • Community: Grant Advisory Committee, Advocacy Advisory Group (consultation), community review and comments on grant requests
  • Board: Possible consultation

Review and Notification

As set out above in Policy and Political Associations, all policy and political association requests must undergo some level of consultation, notice, review, or approval by the staff, the community, or the Board. This section describes in more detail such involvement.

Staff Review

Approval of a policy association requires WMF staff review and approval:

General Counsel
The General Counsel should approve all types of association.
Chief Communications Officer
The Chief Communications Officer should be consulted in all types of association.
Chief of Finance and Administration (CFA)
The CFA should approve any policy association potentially involving political and legislative activities (as explained below).
Other Staff
Other staff may be consulted depending on the proposed policy and political association. For example, the use of web banners would require approval from the Heads of Fundraising and Technology.
Executive Director
The Executive Director may be required to provide final approval depending on the proposed policy and political association.

Community Notification or Review

As listed above, different types of policy associations may need different types of community notification or involvement, such as:

General notice
The Community is notified about the policy association after a decision is made (through such channels as WikimediaAnnounce-L or Wikimedia-L).
Advocacy Advisory Group
Before a decision, the Advocacy Advisory Group is consulted for feedback and possible consensus. The Advocacy Advisory Group is a community group - managed by the Legal and Community Advocacy Department - interested in public and political issues and Wikimedia’s role in such issues.
Request for Comment (RfC)
Before a decision, an RfC is posted regarding the policy association, either for consultation or consensus.

Board of Trustees Review

As listed above, certain policy associations may require different levels of Board involvement, such as:

No Board involvement
Board consultation
The Executive Director and General Counsel informally consult the Board for advice regarding the policy association before implementation.
Board approval
The Executive Director and General Counsel submit the proposed association for approval by a vote of the Board.

Scope of Endorsement

The Wikimedia Mission

Policy and political associations should protect and advance Wikimedia’s mission “to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.” Accordingly, we will not support causes unrelated to or inconsistent with that mission. For example, no support should be given to:

  • environmental issues;
  • animal rights;
  • anti-globalization;
  • anti-war activism;
  • religious activities; or
  • political parties.

Political and Legislative Activities

At times, we must act or associate to oppose mission-threatening legislation. As a non-profit organization, our ability to participate in certain political and legislative activities is limited by IRS regulations.

Political Activities

  • We cannot participate in political campaigns.
    • No showing of bias or preference for or against a candidate for office is permissible.
    • No contributions to political campaign funds are allowed.

Legislative Activities (Lobbying)

  • At the federal level, there are serious restrictions on lobbying, including “direct” and “grassroots” efforts:
    • Direct lobbying consists of “attempts to influence a legislative body through communication with a member or employee of a legislative body, or with a government official who participates in formulating legislation.”
    • Grassroots lobbying consists of “attempts to influence legislation by attempting to affect the opinion of the public with respect to the legislation and encouraging the audience to take action with respect to the legislation. In either case, the communications must refer to and reflect a view on the legislation.”
  • There may be different restrictions for policy or political advocacy at the state level. Please consult the General Counsel.
  • There may be laws on lobbying registration both at the federal and state level. Please consult the General Counsel.
  • There are serious financial and other restrictions on legislative or lobbying activities. For that reason, approval by the General Counsel and the CFA is required.

Notes

  1. This guideline is intended to cover only policy and political associations. It does not govern commercial and organizational relationships outside the policy and political context where the WMF is entering into a contractual relationship and allowing use of WMF trademarks for limited purposes in furtherance of the purposes of the contract. For example, a contract with a mobile company to provide users access to Wikipedia for free may allow the mobile company to display the Wikimedia logo in its promotion of services. This arrangement would not fall under the scope of this guideline.

    WMF reserves the right to deviate from this policy depending on the circumstances. The General Counsel must approve any such deviation.