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December 21, 1970
Honorable Daniel J. Evans
Olympia, Washington 98501
Cite as: AGLO 1970 No. 160
Dear Governor Evans:
By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office concerning the status of an organization known as the Washington Association of Community College Student Governments. We have paraphrased your question as follows:
Are there any state statutory restrictions imposed upon the Washington Association of Community College Student Governments, concerning budgeting, expenditure, or supervision of its budget, comparable to those restrictions applicable to the individual community colleges of this state whose associated student bodies become members of the association?
As you have advised in your letter, the Washington Association of Community College Student Governments is a nonprofit association which offers a variety of services for community college student government organizations throughout the state. The range of the services includes campus-based activities such as the gathering and dissemination of information, consultation and coordination, and other community-based services including legislative representation and lobbying.
The association is apparently funded entirely, or almost entirely, by membership dues paid by the associated student bodies of the various community colleges. These dues are paid with the understanding that they entitle the [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] individual student body associations to a variety of services which are supplied by the association, including those services which have been outlined in your letter. There is apparently some concern that, because the association may expend some of its funds for lobbying, public agencies (including state‑funded student body organizations) cannot pay membership dues to the association.
In answering your question, it is essential to note that the Washington Association of Community College Student Governments is not, insofar as our research has disclosed, an agency created by law, nor is it created pursuant to the provisions of any state law as the official instrumentality of any community colleges or their associated student bodies. It appears to be, structurally speaking, purely a private agency rendering services to its members on a contractual basis. Therefore, as in the case of other contractors rendering services to state agencies, the dues paid to the association lose their character as public funds and become the private funds of the corporation which may be expended for any of its lawful purposes. See the memorandum opinion to the state auditor dated August 28, 1969, a copy of which is enclosed. Particular reference is made to page 9, item 8, discussing the similar nature of the Association of Washington Cities and its funds. The direct answer to your question, then, is that the budgetary and expenditure restrictions applicable to funds of the colleges and their student bodies are not applicable to the Washington Association of Community College Student Governments. However, sharing your concern, we are prompted to add some cautionary notes.
If it were found that the primary or major purpose of the association is to influence the passage or defeat of a particular bill or type of legislation, there would be a legal question about the membership of a public agency in it at public expense. In that case, membership would probably be construed as an attempt to spend funds indirectly for a purpose for which the expenditure could not be made directly.
Similarly, the association could not enter into any binding agreement with any community college or student body organization or a combination of them to receive or expend any public funds for lobbying purposes. See the above‑referenced memorandum of August 28, 1969; and the informal opinion of this office to Senator Huntley, dated March 4, 1969, a copy of which is enclosed.
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
Therefore, any such activity by the association, if done, would have to be a function of its own, and purely incidental to its principal activities. Furthermore, the amount of membership fees paid by individual members who are public agencies must be reasonably commensurate to the activities for which they may lawfully contract with the association, excluding legislative representation or lobbying. See the letter to Bogle, Bogle & Gates from this office, in connection with Examination Report No. 27307, A.G. No. 24182, December 20, 1961.1/
In conclusion, the direct answer to your question is that the Washington Association of Community College Student Governments is a private association, and we can find no legal objection to the expenditure of its funds for any of the purposes outlined in your letter. Furthermore, subject to the qualifications outlined in this letter, there is no legal objection to the expenditure by a community college or associated student body of a community college of public funds in reasonable amounts for membership in the association, such amounts being commensurate with services actually performed by the association for which the public agency in question can lawfully contract.2/
However, because of the previously noted restrictions upon expenditures by community colleges and their student bodies, and because the exact nature and functions of the Washington Association of Community College Student Governments are not entirely clear, we recommend a careful study by each such public agency which plans to become a member, before doing so, in order to be certain that the legal conditions we have outlined are fully met.
We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Robert F. Hauth
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/The opinion is 62 pages in length, and for that reason a copy is not enclosed. However, it is available upon request.
2/In answering these questions we have to some extent assumed the authority of a community college or student body of a community college to become a member of such an association and pay dues in return for services rendered. Although it is a basic rule that the authority of public agencies must be expressed or necessarily implied in a statute, we believe there is ample authority for associated student bodies to belong to an organization such as the Washington Association of Community College Student Governments, in order to receive the benefit of the services for which it can lawfully contract, pursuant to the statutes governing the operation of community colleges, and the reasoning of the informal letter described above to Bogle, Bogle & Gates, dated December 20, 1961.