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NEWS | July 27, 2010

Legal guidelines for scratching the political itch

By 628th Air Base Wing Legal Office

When it comes to the democratic process, everyone is encouraged to register to vote, study the issues and candidates, and ultimately vote as part of their civic obligations.

Beyond these basic actions, as primary and general elections approach, military members and Department of Defense civilian employees may start feeling the itch become more active in the political process. When feeling that urge, it's important to understand the rules governing federal employee participation in political activities.

What is a political activity? A political activity is an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or a partisan political group. There are two partisan political activities: partisan and nonpartisan. Partisan activities relate to candidates or issues of national or state political parties. Candidacy for national or state office is considered partisan, even if the candidate is not affiliated with a national or state political party. Partisan activities are more restricted than nonpartisan activities.

Nonpartisan activities are not associated with a national or state political party but involve "stand alone" political issues, such as constitutional amendments, municipal ordinances, etc. Employees have more leeway with nonpartisan activities so long as they refrain from using government facilities and/or resources and so long as the employee avoids any implication that the Air Force endorses or supports their activity.

The DOD has established guidelines and policies that restrict both types of political activities by military members and federal employees. Listed below are a few political activity guidelines:

Military members may:
· Register, vote, and express their opinions on political candidates (but not as representing the military)
· Make monetary contributions to a political organization
· Attend partisan and non-partisan political meetings or rallies as a spectator when not in uniform
· Display a political sticker on a privately owned vehicle

Military members may not:
· Use his or her official authority or influence to interfere with an election
· Participate in partisan political management, campaigns, or conventions
· Make campaign contributions to another member of the military or an employee of the federal government
· Solicit or receive a campaign contributions from another member of the military
· Display a large political sign, banner, or poster on the top or side of a private vehicle
· March or ride in a partisan political parade

Civilian federal employees may:
· Be a candidate for public office in nonpartisan elections
· Assist in voter registration drives, drive voters to a polling place, and act as a recorder, watcher or challenger at a polling place
· Serve as election judge or clerk
· Make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections'
· Distribute campaign literature in partisan elections

Civilian federal employees should avoid:
· Soliciting, accepting or receiving political contributions unless both individuals are members of the same federal labor organization or employee organization, and the one solicited is not subordinate
· Knowingly soliciting or discouraging the political activity of any person who has business before the agency
· Engaging in political activity while on duty
· Engaging in political activity while in any government office
· Hosting or sponsoring a political fundraiser (although you may attend it, and your spouse may host the fundraiser.)

For any other questions, or more detailed information, contact the Legal Office at 963-5502.