Political activity restriction reminder

  • Published
  • By Capt. Phillip N. Padden
  • 28th Bomb Wing Judge Advocate
As the 2010 elections approach it's important for all Department of Defense personnel to keep in mind the limits on political activities they can engage in.

The provisions for federal employees are published in the 5 U.S.C. 7321, "The Hatch Act", Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 and Air Force Instruction 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force.

These rules are established to avoid either an endorsement, or the appearance of one, toward candidates or issues. Therefore, while exercising a right to vote is the duty of all Americans, military and civilian federal employees should understand the laws and regulations that outline what constitutes appropriate participation in the political process.

Servicemembers may

· Register, vote and express opinions on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the U.S. armed forces
· Attend partisan or nonpartisan political meetings, rallies or conventions as a spectator and not in uniform
· Join a political club and attend meetings as a spectator
· Display bumper stickers on a personally owned vehicle or wear campaign buttons on civilian clothes
· Write a letter to the editor regarding public issues, but cannot promote a partisan political cause or candidate
· Make a political contribution to an organization supporting a particular candidate, but cannot contribute to the candidate personally

Servicemembers may not

· Participate in partisan political campaigns, except as a spectator, or make public speeches related to such activity
· Solicit votes or contributions for a particular candidate or issue
· Use official government authority or influence to interfere with or affect the outcome of an election
· Publish articles or opinions promoting or discouraging partisan political issues or candidates
· Run for or hold civil office
· Take an active role in partisan political activity. Accordingly, servicemembers may not:
o Serve in an official capacity
o Advocate in media
o Conduct opinion polls or other clerical duties during a campaign
o March in a parade
o Actively promote fundraisers

Civilian employees may

· Be candidates for public office in nonpartisan elections
· Register and vote as they choose
· Assist in voter registration drives
· Express opinions about candidates and issues
· Contribute money to political organizations
· Attend political fundraising functions
· Attend and be active at political rallies and meetings
· Sign nominating petitions
· Campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments and municipal ordinances
· Join and be an active member of a political party or club
· Campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections
· Make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections
· Distribute campaign literature in partisan elections
· Hold office in political clubs or parties, including serving as a delegate to a convention

Civilian employees may not

· Use their official authority or influence to interfere with an election
· Solicit, accept or receive political contributions, unless both individuals are members of the same federal labor organization or employee organization, and the one solicited is not a subordinate employee
· Knowingly solicit or discourage the political activity of any person who has business before the agency
· Engage in political activity while on duty
· Engage in political activity in any government office
· Engage in political activity while wearing an official uniform
· Engage in political activity while using a government vehicle
· Be candidates for public office in partisan elections
· Wear political buttons on duty

The penalties for engaging in prohibited political activity can be severe. For federal civilian employees, a Hatch Act violation may be punished by either removal from federal employment or a minimum 30-day suspension without pay. Military members who violate DOD Directive 1344.10 or AFI 51-902 are subject to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In short, participate in the political process, but if you have questions about whether your activity is prohibited, ask first. Call the Ellsworth Legal Office at (605) 385-2329.