Servicemember political activity restrictions

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt Bronson Malcom
  • 28th Bomb Wing Legal office
As the 2008 elections draw near, remember that military members and federal civilian employees must adhere to special rules regarding their political activities.

For both, the rule of thumb is to avoid any activity that may be viewed as associating the federal government, directly or indirectly, with a partisan political activity. This means that Department of Defense personnel may not engage in political activity while on duty, in a government office, while in uniform or while using a government vehicle.

Commissioned officers should also be reminded that they may not use condescending or disrespectful words against certain office holders, including the president, vice president, Congress and the governor or legislature of the state or territory in which the officer is stationed.

In addition to these guidelines, there are several less-obvious restrictions on the political activities of military members. For example, military members cannot:

· serve in an official capacity or be listed as a sponsor of a partisan political group;
· march or ride in a partisan political parade;
· sell tickets or promote political dinners or similar fundraising events;
· make monetary contributions directly to a political candidate;
· display a large political sign, banner, or poster on a private vehicle;
· use official authority or influence to interfere with an election or solicit votes or contributions.

Both federal civilians and military members have certain political rights as well and are encouraged to exercise them. For example, both may:

· register and vote for the candidates of their choice and encourage others to do the same;
· sign petitions in their private capacity;
· contribute to political organizations, committees or parties;
· display political bumper stickers;
· attend partisan political meetings or rallies if not in uniform.

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 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.

For more information call the Ellsworth Legal Office at 605-385-2329.