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NEWS | Sept. 16, 2015

Political Season Guidelines

By Capt. Jeff Sullivan 628 ABW/JA

The presidential primary elections are quickly approaching and the campaigns are in full swing.  Candidates are vying for the support from all parts of the electorate.  As members of the armed forces, we are one of the instruments of national policy.  Our elected leaders set these national policies.  I encourage every member of the armed forces to be informed about the political process and to vote.  For members who wish to become more involved, however, it is also important to follow the rules specific to military members to ensure that your political participation does not explicitly or implicitly create an impression that the Air Force, as an institution, endorses a particular organization or candidate. 

During this season, military members may be asked to join political parties or other political organizations.  Members may join political clubs, parties or other political organizations and may attend meetings or rallies conducted by these organizations. However, they must be off-duty, out-of-uniform and  conduct themselves consistent with the law.  Members may not participate in political organizations in their official Air Force capacity or be listed as a sponsor or officer of a partisan political organization.  Members also may not participate in partisan political management, campaigns or conventions or make public speeches in the course of such activity.
These rules are designed to avoid the appearance of the Air Force endorsing a non-governmental entity.  In this way, the rules for participating in political organizations mirror some of the rules for participating in other "non-governmental organizations" (such as private organizations or community groups).  In essence, though military members can participate in their personal capacity with such "non-governmental organizations," they should not conduct the affairs of private organizations or businesses while in uniform or in a military capacity, regardless of how noble that organization's activities might be. 

Candidates, parties and other organizations have also already begun asking for donations and will continue to do so.  Members are free to make donations to candidates, parties or other political organizations, subject to the same federal election laws that apply to everyone.  Members may not, however, solicit for donations to political organizations on-base.  Members also may not promote or sell tickets to political fundraisers.  One common type of fundraiser to be aware of is a large group meal with a candidate for office--you may attend in your personal capacity but not in uniform. 

Military members will also hear an array of political opinions from friends, co-workers and pundits.  Military members, generally, may express their own political opinions and display political stickers on their private vehicles.  But, here too, there are some limits.  Members should be mindful of decorum when expressing political opinions in the workplace.  Members may not display large signs, banners or posters on their private vehicles.  Members may not participate in radio, TV or streaming/webcast programming as an advocate of a partisan political activity.  Additionally, members also may not march or ride in partisan political parades.

Finally, military members can and should vote and encourage others to vote.  Active duty members may not run for or hold office.  On the other hand, reservists and guardsmen  may run for and hold office.  For example, Lindsey Graham, the senior Senator from South Carolina, recently retired from U.S. Air Force Reserve JAG Corps after 33 years of service.

Election season is an exciting time in our nation's governance.  Military members may participate in the political process subject to the rules and regulations designed to avoid the appearance of endorsement by the Air Force.  If you have questions about a particular political activity not covered by this article, please contact the 628 ABW/JA at 843-963-5502.