State officers and employees and special State officers and employees frequently write letters for various purposes which are not always related to their official duties. Questions about the propriety of letters written on State stationery to further the personal interest of the officer or employee or another individual or entity have been addressed to the State Ethics Commission. To help resolve these questions, the Commission has established the following Guidelines to clarify the use of official stationery for purposes other than the conduct of a State agency's business.
Permissible Uses of Official Stationery
The Commission has determined that the following uses of State stationery are generally permissible:
1. To recommend a current or former employee or colleague for another position, admission to a school or program, etc.
Example: Recommending a subordinate for admission to graduate school.
2. To respond to inquiries from a private entity about a current or former employee or colleague.
Example: Providing a character reference for an employee to an adoption agency during the course of the employee's application to adopt a child.
Note: These permissible uses are only acceptable so long as the use of official stationery does not create an impression that the State officer or employee is engaged in an unwarranted use of his or her position. For example, it would not be appropriate for a State employee to recommend an individual for inclusion in a program over which the State employee has supervisory or regulatory authority. In addition, there must be a reasonable connection between the officer's or employee's official duties and the use and purpose of the letter.
Impermissible Uses of Official Stationery
The Commission has determined that the following examples represent clearly impermissible uses of State stationery:
1. To promote a candidate for elective office.
Example: Writing an endorsement of a candidate for the legislature for inclusion in a campaign pamphlet.
2. To secure a personal financial gain or pursue a vested interest for one's self or another.
Example: Writing to a private contractor (plumber, electrician) demanding a refund or a reduction in a quoted price.
Personal Stationery Imprinted with Agency, Office or Title
The Commission has determined that use of personal stationery imprinted with the agency office or title of a State officer or employee, even though paid for personally, is impermissible. Such stationery may create the appearance of official stationery or may create an impression that the State officer or employee is acting in an official capacity.
The Commission acknowledges that there are occasions when it may be appropriate for a State officer or employee to identify himself or herself by position or title in correspondence on personal stationery (i.e., stationery bearing the individual's name and home address).
Agency Use of Official Stationery for Solicitations
1. State agencies shall not solicit contributions of any kind from vendors to the agency or from entities regulated by the agency.
2. Solicitation of any other entities is subject to review and approval by the agency's Ethics Liaison Officer prior to any contact by the agency. The Ethics Liaison Officer must be advised of the purpose of the solicitation, the expected result, the identities of the entities to be solicited, whether there is any personal connection between the agency employees and the solicited entity, and must be provided with a sample of the solicitation letter.
3. The Ethics Liaison Officer should determine whether the solicitation would be problematic under the Uniform Ethics Code, the agency's code of ethics, the Conflicts of Interest Law, any Guidelines promulgated by the Commission, and/or any statutory provisions dealing with charitable contributions. The Ethics Liaison Officer should consider such factors as whether the agency has any business contacts with the recipients of the solicitation, whether any solicited products or services will directly benefit any agency employees, whether the solicitation is of such magnitude that it could be burdensome to the recipient, and whether the language of the solicitation is coercive.
4. The Ethics Liaison Officer shall copy the Commission on all determinations regarding solicitations.
Circumstances that do not fall within the permissible or impermissible examples above require an individual determination by the Commission. Questions and inquiries should be addressed to: State Ethics Commission, P.O. Box 082, Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0082; (609) 292-1892.
Last updated November 9th, 2016