Political activities by federal employees

  • Published
  • By Mr. AnhTuan Dang
  • 452 AMW Base Legal
With Election Day about a month away, it is a great time to go over the do's and don'ts concerning political activities by federal employees. Most of this should be a refresher, but it is important to review the rules to ensure military members abide by applicable laws and regulations. As members of the military, we have a unique role within our nation's government. As defenders of freedom, we must never be seen as political entities.

"If someone uses the uniform, whatever uniform, for partisan politics, I am disappointed because I think it erodes the bond of trust we have with the American people," said Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, during an interview with Jennifer Griffin, Fox News, on 22 Aug. 2012. "It is imperative that the military remain 'apolitical' and we must maintain our bond of trust with the American people -- they do not want us to be another special interest group."

Maj. Deric Prescott, 951 RSPTS/JA staff judge advocate, revealed several sets of rules help to protect the integrity of the military member's involvement with the political process. The Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 applies to members of the armed forces, to include, reserve components not on active duty, National Guard members in a nonfederal status and military retirees. Air Force Instruction 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force, provides a detailed summary of limitations and allowances. The AFI also states that several provisions, if violated, can be prosecuted under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Hatch Act, as amended (5 U.S.C. Section 7321, et set.), applies to federal civilian employees, who are also subject to DOD guidance that discusses participation in political campaigns and elections.

These rules are designed to guide military members' and civilian employees' participation in political activities in a direction that does not imply, DOD official sponsorship, approval or endorsement of a party or official. The primary concern is that actual [or perceived] partisanship can undermine the legitimacy of the military profession and department.

The AFIs are not designed to discourage military and civilian members from participating in the political arena; in fact, DOD has a longstanding policy of encouraging members to carry out their obligations as citizens. The Defense Department fully supports members who exercise their voting rights, as long as they do not act as representatives of the armed forces.

"Members are barred from engaging in any political activities while in uniform," said Lt. Robert Driessen, assistant staff judge advocate, 452d AMW/JA, "Unfortunately, some of our military members are not aware of this."

During the Iowa Caucus, a combat engineer assigned to the 416th Theater Engineer Co., violated policy when he appeared on stage and offered his endorsement to the Republican candidate, while in uniform but inactive, Jan. 3. Army Maj. Angela Wallace, an Army Reserve representative, confirmed that the soldier was not on active duty and that he stood alone in his opinions regarding his political affiliation and beliefs. Also, his statements and beliefs in no way reflect that of the Army Reserve. His chain of command was made aware of the violation and is considering appropriate disciplinary action to take, she said.

Most civilian DOD employees are permitted to speak before political gatherings and serve as officers of political parties or partisan groups, officials said. They are also permitted to manage campaigns, distribute literature, write political articles or serve as a spokesperson for their chosen party or candidate. However, these activities cannot involve fundraising.

The bottom line is that members should stay away from any activity that associates DOD with a partisan political activity. The rules for active duty personnel are derived from DoD Directive 1344.10.

Active duty U.S. Air Force personnel may not:

1. Participate as more than a spectator in partisan political fundraising activities

2. Use official authority or influence to interfere with an election, affect the course or outcome of an election, solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue, or require or solicit political contributions from others

3. Allow or publish partisan political articles, letters, or endorsements signed or written by the member that solicit votes for or against a partisan party, candidate, or cause (other than a letter to an editor as noted below)

4. Serve in any official capacity with, or be listed as a sponsor of a partisan political club

5. Speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause

6. Participate in any radio, television, or discussion as an advocate for, or against a partisan party, candidate, or cause.

7. Conduct a political opinion survey under the auspices of a partisan political club or group or distribute partisan political literature

8. Perform clerical or other duties for a partisan committee or candidate during a campaign or during the closing out of a campaign

9. Solicit or otherwise engage in fundraising activities in Federal facilities for any political cause or candidate.

10. March or ride in a partisan political parade

11. Display a large political sign, banner, or poster (as distinguished from a bumper sticker) on a private vehicle

12. Display a partisan political sign, banner, or similar device visible to the public at one's residence on a military installation, even if that residence is part of a privatized housing development

13. Participate in any effort to transport voters to polls, if organized, by or associated with a partisan political party, cause, or candidate

14. Sell tickets for or actively promote partisan political dinners and similar fundraising events

15. Attend partisan political events as an official representative of the Armed Forces, except as a color guard member at certain events

16. Make a campaign contribution to, receive, or solicit a campaign contribution from any other active duty member

17. Use disrespectful words against the president and his cabinet members, any governor or state legislature.

18. Take part in any activity that may be viewed as directly or indirectly associating Air Force or DOD with partisan political activity.

Active duty USAF personnel may:

1. Register, vote, and express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces

2. Promote and encourage others to exercise their voting franchise, if such promotion does not constitute use of their official authority or influence to interfere with the outcome of any election

3. Join a partisan or nonpartisan political club and attend its meetings when not in uniform and not in official capacity (May not be listed as a sponsor of such club as noted above)

4. Serve as an election official, if it is not as a representative of a partisan political party, does not interfere with the performance of military duties, is performed when not in uniform and with Secretary of the Air Force approval.

5. Sign a petition for a specific legislative action or 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, not as a rep of the Armed Forces

6. Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper expressing personal views on public issues or political candidates, if such action is not part of an organized letter-writing campaign or a solicitation of votes for or against a political party or partisan political cause or candidate

7. If the letter identifies the member as on active duty, it must clearly state that the views expressed are those of the individual only and not those of the Air Force or DOD

8. Make monetary contributions to a political organization, party, or committee favoring a particular candidate or slate of candidates, if not conducted in a federal facility and subject to normal dollar limitations for political donations under federal law

9. Display a political bumper sticker on the member's private vehicle

10. Attend partisan and nonpartisan political fundraising activities, meetings, rallies, debates, conventions, or activities as a spectator when not in uniform and when no inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement can  reasonably be drawn

11. Participate fully in the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

Civilian employees may not:

1. Use their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the results on any election

2. Solicit or receive political contributions or allow their official titles to be used in political fundraising

3. Run for partisan office (except as independent candidates in certain local elections)

4. Participate in political activity while on duty or in a government facility or vehicle

Civilian employees may:

1. Be candidates for public office in nonpartisan elections

2. Join and be an active member of a political party or club

3. Register and vote as they choose

4. Sign and circulate nominating petitions

5. Assist in voter registration drives

6. Campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, and municipal ordinances

7. Express opinions about candidates and issues

8. Campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections

9. Contribute money to political organizations

10. Distribute campaign literature in partisan elections

11. Attend and give a speech at a political fundraiser, rally or meeting

12. Hold office in political clubs or parties

In addition to complying with all other mandatory provisions herein regarding prescribed and proscribed actions for active duty Air Force members, members on active duty for less than 30 days will:

1. Give full time and attention to performing military duties during prescribed duty hours

2. Avoid any outside political activities that may be prejudicial to performing military duties or inconsistent with the accepted customs and traditions of the Armed Forces

3. Refrain from participating in any political activity while in military uniform and from using government facilities for political activities