Political Activities – Do’s and Don’ts

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jeremy Mooney
  • 28th Bomb Wing Judge Advocate
As servicemembers have likely noticed, political advertisements are running on TV, radio and the occasional billboard along the interstate. "Vote for Me" and "Don't Vote for My Opponent" seem to be the standard messages. Oftentimes, the advertisement tries to recruit servicemembers to help them get votes. As shown on a recent cover, even the Air Force Times has pointed out how the military vote could decide the upcoming presidential election. With all of the information available, it is important to remember that as members of the United States Armed Forces (i.e., active-duty Air Force), there are certain rules we need to be aware of to keep us from crossing the line when it comes to political activities.

Voting is a constitutional right. While it is important to exercise our constitutional rights, it is also important to remember that military members are servants to the constitution. The constitution provides for a military that is directly controlled by civilian authorities and there are rules that tell the military what to do.

In fact, there is an Air Force Instruction (AFI) that outlines what servicemembers can and cannot do regarding political activities. AFI 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force, is a punitive AFI; that means members of the armed forces can be court-martialed or offered nonjudicial punishment (Article 15) for violating the provisions outlined in it. Some of the guidelines and restrictions arising from these regulations, directives and instructions are as follows:

Military members should:
· Become informed of the issues and the positions of the candidates.
· Register to vote and then vote.

Military members may:
· Express personal political opinions. There can be no indication, however, that such opinion represents that of the U.S. Air Force.
· Attend political meetings or rallies while not in uniform.
· Display small political stickers on private vehicles.
· Wear political buttons while not in uniform and not on duty.
· Make monetary contributions to a political organization or political committee favoring a particular candidate.

Military members SHALL NOT:
· Make a campaign contribution to, or receive or solicit (on one's own behalf) a campaign contribution from, any other member of the Armed Forces on active duty, or an officer or employee of the federal government, for promoting a political objective or cause.
· Participate in partisan political management, campaigns and conventions or make public speeches in the course of such activity.
· Serve in an official capacity for partisan political organizations.
· Speak before a partisan political gathering of any kind or promoting a partisan political party or candidate.
· March or ride in a partisan political parade.
· Display a partisan political sign, poster, banner or similar device visible to the public at one's residence on a military installation, even if one's residence is part of a privatized housing development.
· Display a large political sign, banner or poster (as distinguished from a bumper sticker) on a private vehicle.
· Participate in an organized partisan effort to provide voters with transportation to the polls.
· Use any kind of official authority or influence to interfere with an election, to affect its course or outcome, to solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue, or to require or solicit political contributions from others.

This article does not list all the rules, but the AFI does. The AFI can be accessed from the E-Publishing website: www.e-publishing.af.mil. Questions regarding the AFI can be answered at the Ellsworth Air Force Base Law Center. It is located at 1000 Ellsworth Street, Suite 2700 in Building 2500 (Rushmore Center). Civilian Employees of the Air Force should contact the Civilian Personnel Office for guidance on political activities.