Guidance for political activities

  • Published
  • By Nancy Anderson Sinclair
  • 341st Staff Judge Advocate Office
It's an election year, which brings many opportunities to participate in the political process, as well as many pitfalls. Because of active duty status or employment as a Department of Defense civilian employee, there are limitations when it comes to participating in political activities. All are encouraged to exercise their voting rights by registering to vote and participating in the process. The following is a summary of rules for both active-duty military members and DoD civilians.

For active-duty military members the primary guidance with regard to political activity is found in DoD Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces and AFI 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force. Per DoD policy, active-duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities. Members on active duty may not campaign for a partisan candidate, engage in partisan fundraising activities, serve as an officer of a partisan club, or speak before a partisan gathering. All military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign or cause.

Members may however, express their personal opinions on political candidates and issues, and make monetary contributions to a political campaign or organization, so long as these activities are done in the personal capacity and no official endorsement is implied. Additionally, members may attend political events as a spectator when not in uniform. Members may sign a petition provided the signing does not obligate them to engage in partisan political activity and is done in their private capacity and not as a representative of the Air Force. Members may also write letters to the editor expressing their personal views on public issues or political candidates, if it is not part of an organized letter-writing campaign or a solicitation of votes for or against a political party, partisan political cause or a candidate.

DoD civilian employees' participation in political activities is regulated by a number of sources including the Hatch Act, implementing regulations found in the Code of Federal Regulations, as well as DoD policy. For purposes of the Hatch Act, a political activity is defined as "an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office or partisan political group." Importantly, application of the Hatch Act rules varies depending on an employee's position or office. Thus, it is extremely important that employees know which rules to apply.

All Malmstrom employees fall within the group three category, known as less restricted employees. Less restricted employees may, in their personal capacity, volunteer with a political campaign or political organization. Some examples of permitted volunteer activities include organizing political rallies and meetings, making phone calls on behalf of a candidate, serving as a delegate to a party convention, and working for a political party to get out the vote on Election Day. However, less restricted employees are prohibited from soliciting or receiving political contributions. Additionally, less restricted employees may never engage in political activity while on-duty or in a federal building. This includes sending or forwarding political emails, posting political messages to one's Facebook page or engaging in political tweeting while in a federal building, including when off-duty. The prohibitions apply even if the less restricted employee is using their personal smartphone, tablet or computer. Employees should never use government equipment when engaging in political activities.

What can you do on social media? Civilian and military personnel may generally express their personal views on public issues or political candidates via social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, or personal blogs, much the same as they would be permitted to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper. If, when expressing a personal opinion, personnel are identified by a social media site as DoD employees, the posting must clearly and prominently state that the views expressed are those of the individual only and not of the Department of Defense.

Military members are prohibited from participating in partisan political activity. Therefore, members may "follow", "friend" or "like" a political party or candidate running for partisan office; however, may not post links to "share", or "re-tweet" comments or tweets from the Facebook page or twitter account of a political party or candidate running for partisan office. Such activity is deemed to constitute participation in political activities. Additionally, members must also be careful not to comment, post or link to material that violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice or Service regulation. Examples include showing contempt for public officials, releasing sensitive information or posting unprofessional material that is prejudicial to good order and discipline under the UCMJ.

Members having specific questions or concerns should contact the legal office at 731-2878 for further guidance. Those needing assistance exercising their voting rights, or for questions regarding where to register to vote and how to vote, should contact a voting officer.