Political season DOs and DON'Ts for DoD employees

  • Published
  • By 47th Flying Training Wing Legal Office
  • 47 Flying Training Wing

As the presidential race heats up, active duty service members and federal employees are reminded that they have specific guidelines to follow during the political season.

Military personnel enjoy the same rights to participate in elections as any other citizen. Those rights are protected by the U.S. Constitution that all military members have taken an oath to support and defend. Because of that oath, service members also have a duty to ensure that their activities do not inject the military into the political process. As individuals, we do not have to be politically neutral, but the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard do.  These rules help to ensure the Department of Defense does not influence or appear to be partisan in our nation's electoral process.

Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty, and individual service regulations outline permitted and prohibited political activities by active duty service members. These rules limit a service member's ability to participate in some aspects of the political process. Service members who violate these directives could face punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and other criminal or administrative penalties.

Service members and federal employees are encouraged to participate in the political process, but they have to be careful about not engaging in political activities in the workplace and not using their official positions to advocate for or against political issues. With the directives set forth in DoDD 1344.10 and other regulations in mind, service members should be aware of what they can and cannot do regarding political activities.

 Active Duty Service Members CAN Do:

· Register to vote, vote, and encourage others to vote.
· Express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues.
· Write a letter in a newspaper, blog, or social media expressing personal political views.  However, if you identify yourself as a service member (for example, if you have a photo on your social media of yourself in uniform) you must include a statement that your views do not represent those of the Department of Defense (DoD) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
· Attend partisan or non-partisan political rallies and clubs as a spectator during off-duty hours. However, service members (including retirees) may not be in uniform.
· Serve as a non-partisan election official while off-duty and not in uniform.  However, this requires Department Secretary (e.g., Secretary of the Air Force) approval. Contact the Legal Office for more information.
· Sign petitions for legislative action or to place a candidate's name on the ballot.
· Donate money to a political party, organization, or committee.
· Display non-offensive bumper stickers on your personally owned vehicles.
· Wear political t-shirts or buttons when not in uniform, performing military duties, or when it could give the appearance of DoD or DHS endorsement.

Active Duty Service Members CANNOT Do:

· Express personal opinions as if they are service branch or DoD policy.
· Make derogatory statements about political leadership - a potential UCMJ violation.
· Organize, lead, sponsor, or speak at partisan political events.
· Engage in partisan political fundraising activities - except as a donor.
· Place large political signs on your vehicle (bigger than a bumper-sticker).
· Display any type of political sign, banner, poster, or similar device in your office, work area, on-base residence (including privatized housing).
· Attend a demonstration on the installation, unless approved by the installation commander.
· Sign/circulate a petition on the installation, unless it is approved by the installation commander.
· Engage in the public or organized recruitment of others to run for political office.
· Run for political office without Department Secretary approval.
· Attempt to influence the view, position, or vote of any subordinate.

The Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. 7321-7326) governs political activities by DoD and other federal civilian employees. The Hatch Act provides restrictions that are similar, but not identical, to those imposed on active duty service members. Federal civilian employees who violate these rules and restrictions are at risk of disciplinary actions, including reprimand, suspension, removal, debarment from federal employment for up to 5 years, and a $1,000 fine.

Federal Civilian Employees CAN Do:

· Register to vote, vote, and encourage others to vote.
· Express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues.
· Write a letter in a newspaper, blog, or social media expressing personal political views. 
· Attend political fundraising functions, rallies, and clubs during off-duty hours.
· Serve as a non-partisan election official.
· Sign petitions for legislative action or to place a candidate's name on the ballot.
· Donate money to a political party, organization, or committee.
· Display non-offensive bumper stickers on your personally owned vehicles.
· Be candidates for public office in nonpartisan elections.
· Display or wear political signs, stickers, t-shirts, or buttons when not in on-duty, in a government building, or using a government vehicle.
· Campaign or make speeches for or against candidates in partisan elections.

Federal Civilian Employees CANNOT Do:

· Use official authority or influence to interfere with or affect an election.
· Solicit, accept, or receive political contributions.
· Use an official title while participating in political activities.
· Engage in political activity while: on duty, in a government building or vehicle, or wearing an official uniform.
· Become a candidate in a partisan election.
· Host or sponsor a political fundraiser (though merely attending one is okay).

Service members are encouraged to review DoDD 1344.10; Department of the Air Force Instruction (DAFI) 51-508, Political Activities, Free Speech and Freedom of Assembly; and Army Regulation (AR) 600-20, Army Command Policy, para. 5-15, to understand permissible political activity. DoD civilian employees are encouraged to visit https://osc.gov/Services/Pages/HatchAct-Federal.aspx for more information on the Hatch Act. 

The information in this article is provided for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice.  For further assistance or if you have questions or concerns, contact the 47th Flying Training Wing Legal Office at 830-298-5172.