NEWS | July 18, 2016

Political Activities: Resources and guidance for military members, federal employees

By 628th Air Base Wing, 315th Airlift Wing Legal Offices

Whether you are a federal employee or member of the U.S. military, there are certain restrictions when deciding to become involved in the political process. DoDD 1344.10 and 5 U.S.C Sections 7321-7326 list the restrictions for military members and federal employees regarding partisan and nonpartisan activities. Many of the restrictions involve participation in a partisan election or activity.  A partisan election or activity is one where there is party affiliation and endorsement (congressional election), whereas a nonpartisan election or activity does not involve party affiliation (school board election).  As a reminder, here are a few of the restrictions regarding political activities for military members and federal employees.

Military members may express personal opinions on political candidates and issues, encourage others to vote, join a partisan political club, and write a letter to the editor of a newspaper expressing personal views on political candidates and issues. However, members must not be in uniform, must not use their official authority to interfere with the outcome of elections, and any letters written must clearly state that the views expressed are those of the individual and not the Department of Defense.  Members may also attend partisan and nonpartisan political fundraising activities as a spectator when not in uniform and when no appearance of endorsement can be reasonably drawn.

Military members may not march or ride in a partisan political parade (reservists not in a military status may march or ride as long as they are not in uniform and there is no appearance of endorsement), display a large political sign on a private vehicle (as opposed to a bumper sticker), display a partisan political sign at one's on-base residence, regardless of whether it is privatized housing, participate in political fundraising activities, sell tickets or promote partisan political dinners/events, manage campaigns, participate in any radio, television or group discussion as an advocate for or against a partisan political party/candidate/cause, or participate in an organized effort to provide voters with transportation to the polls if the effort is associated with a partisan political party or candidate.

Federal employees may run for public office in nonpartisan elections, assist in voter registration drives, contribute money to political organizations, attend fundraising events, attend and participate in political rallies, join and participate in political parties and clubs, and campaign for or against candidates, including making speeches, in partisan elections.     

Federal employees may not be a candidate for public office in partisan elections, engage in political activity while on duty, in any government office, while using a government vehicle, or while wearing an official uniform. Federal employees also may not wear political buttons while on duty, solicit or discourage political activity of any person who has business before the agency, or use their official authority to influence an election. Finally, employees may not solicit, accept or receive political contributions unless both individuals are members of the same Federal labor organization, it is not done in the workplace or on duty, and the one solicited is not a subordinate. 

This list is not exhaustive and not intended to replace a legal review. Please consult the legal office at 843-963-5502 with specific questions.

Below is a list of other useful resources and guidance:

1. 2016 Political Activity Guidance
http://www.dod.mil/dodgc/defense_ethics/resource_library/elections_guidance_2016.pdf

2. Social Media & the Hatch Act
https://osc.gov/Pages/The-Hatch-Act-Frequently-Asked-Questions-on-Federal-Employees-and-the-Use-of-Social-Media-and-Email.aspx

3. Article on Military Members, Civilians being cautious of political activity on social media
https://www.army.mil/article/162901/Civilian_employees__Soldiers_must_be_cautious_of_political_activity_on_social_media