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Guidance specific on participation in political acitivities for military, civilians

  • Published
  • By Sheppard Law Center
With many primaries and caucuses ongoing and the presidential election in November, some Air Force members and Department of Defense civilian employees may want to become more active in the political process.

That is good. In fact, the Air Force encourages its members to fulfill their civic obligations by studying the issues and going to the polls. However, it is important to remember that military members and DOD civilian employees are subject to limits on their political activities.

Military members can find the rules for political participation in DOD Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty, and Air Force Instruction 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the Air Force. Civilian employees are governed by section 6-200 of the Joint Ethics Regulation.

The following is a list of permissible and impermissible political actions:

Active duty military members may:
· Register and vote.
· Express an opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces.
· Contribute money to a political organization, including parties and committees to elect specific candidates.
· Attend political meetings or rallies as a spectator when not in uniform.
· Join a political club and attend its meetings when not in uniform.
· Serve as an election official, if such service is not as a representative of a partisan political party, does not interfere with military duties, is performed while out of uniform, and has the prior approval of the major command commander or equivalent authority.
· Display a political sticker on the member's private vehicle, or wear a political button when not in uniform and not on duty.
· Sign a petition for specific legislative action or a petition to place a candidate's name on an official election ballot, if the signing does not obligate the member to engage in partisan political activity and is done as a private citizen.
· Write a personal letter, not for publication, expressing preference for a specific political candidate or cause.

Active duty military members may not:
· Be a candidate for, or hold civil office, except as authorized by DOD Directive 1344.10.
· Allow, or cause to be published, partisan political articles signed or authorized by the member for soliciting votes for or against a partisan political party or candidate.
· Speak before a partisan political gathering of any kind for promoting a partisan political party or candidate.
· Participate in any radio, television, or other program or group discussion as an advocate of a partisan political party or candidate.
· Solicit or otherwise engage in fund-raising activities in federal offices or facilities, including military installations, for a partisan political cause or candidate.
· Make campaign contributions directly to a partisan political candidate.
· Sell tickets for, or otherwise actively promote, political dinners and other such fund-raising events.
· March or ride in a partisan political parade.
· Serve in any official capacity or be listed as a sponsor of a partisan political club.
· Perform clerical or other duties for a partisan political committee during a campaign or on Election Day.
· Engage in the public or organized recruitment of others to become partisan candidates for nomination or election to a civil office.
· Display a large political sign, banner, or poster on the top or side of a member's private vehicle.

DOD civilian employees may:
· Do all of the political activities active duty military members may do, plus: 
· Be candidates for public office in nonpartisan elections.
· Assist in voter registration drives.
· Express opinions about candidates and issues, to include making speeches.
· Hold office in political clubs or parties.
· Distribute campaign literature in partisan elections.
· Be active at political rallies and meetings.
· Campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections, referendum questions, constitutional amendments, or municipal ordinances.

DOD civilian employees may not:
· Use official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.
· Be candidates in partisan elections.
· Wear political buttons on duty.
· Solicit political contributions from the general public, subordinates, or members of other federal labor or employee organizations.
· Engage in political activity while on duty, in any federal workplace, wearing an official uniform or displaying official insignia, or using a GOV or government-leased vehicle.
· Knowingly solicit or discourage the political activity of any person who has any business with DOD.
· Contribute to the political campaign of another federal employee who is in the employee's chain of command or supervision.

The most important thing to remember is to check the rules before engaging in a political activity. Also, when in doubt, seek further advice from your Unit Voting Representative or legal office. 

For military members, failure to comply with these requirements may be chargeable under Article 92, Uniform Code of Military Justice, failure to obey a lawful order or regulation.