By Cindy Middleton, 17th Training Wing Judge Advocate
/ Published October 07, 2016
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Being involved in the political process is one of our greatest responsibilities as citizens. All eligible voters are encouraged to vote.
However, as employees of the Defense Department, both active-duty service members and Defense Department civilians, there are certain rules on how we participate in the political process.
For military personnel, guidelines like the Defense Department Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces, and Air Force Instruction 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force, lay out rules on participation in political activities by Air Force members. Per Defense Department policy, active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid political activities imply or appear to that imply Defense Department sponsorship, approval or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign or cause.
Members on active duty may not campaign for a partisan candidate, engage in partisan fundraising activities or speak before a partisan gathering. Active duty members may, however, express personal opinions on political candidates and issues, make monetary contributions to a political campaign or organization and attend political events as a spectator when not in uniform. Military members may join a political club and attend its meetings when not in uniform, but may not serve as an officer of that club. They may also display a political sticker on a private vehicle as long as it is not inflammatory and is consistent with good order and discipline. However, they cannot display large political signs, banners or posters on their personal vehicle or their residence on a military installation or privatized housing.
The Hatch Act for Federal Employees covers the permitted and prohibited activities for civilian employees who may engage in partisan activity. Because the rules vary depending on the employee’s status, it is extremely important that employees engaging in political activity know which rules apply to them. Defense Department civilians, while in their personal capacity, may volunteer with a political campaign or organization, to include organizing political rallies and meetings, making phone calls on behalf of a candidate, serving as a delegate to a party convention and working for a political party to get out the vote on Election Day. They may express personal opinions about political candidates and issues, display political bumper stickers on their personal vehicles and display political signs at their personal residence.
However, Defense Department civilians are prohibited from soliciting or receiving political contributions. Regardless of what they may do, civilian employees may never engage in political activity while on-duty or in a federal building. Specifically, they may not send or forward political emails, post political messages to social media while in a federal building, even if the employee is using their personal smartphone, tablet or computer. Civilian employees should never use government equipment when engaging in political activities.
On social media, civilian and military personnel may express their personal views on public issues or political candidates much the same as they would be permitted to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper. However, this is prohibited while on-duty or in the workplace.
If they are identified by a social media site as Defense Department employees, their posting must clearly and prominently state that the views expressed are their own only and not of the Defense Department. Also, they may “follow,” “friend” or “like” a political party or candidate running for partisan office, but they may not post links to, “share” or “re-tweet” comments or tweets from the page of a political party or candidate running for partisan office. Service members must also be careful not to comment, post or link to material that violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice or service regulation. Examples include showing contempt for public officials, releasing sensitive information or posting unprofessional material that is contrary to good order and discipline under the UCMJ.
Partisan activities relate to candidates or issues representing national or state political parties. Candidacy for national or state office is partisan, even if the candidate is not affiliated with a national or state political party. Partisan activities are more restricted than nonpartisan activities. On the other hand, 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.
Absolutely no campaign support events are allowed on base. According to regulation, no one can engage in any political activities "inside the fence-line" of any military installation or in any federal building, whether active duty or civilian. Requests for access to a military installation by candidates for elected office are generally denied. However, requests by candidates and elected officials who are participating in official activities not related to a political campaign may be allowed after review by legal and public affairs personnel.
Basically, these rules come down to making sure that whatever you do, don’t do it in uniform, on duty, in the work place or use government resources. It must be obvious to the public that you are doing it as an individual and not as a service member or civilian Defense Department employee. For questions or concerns, contact the base legal office at 325-654-3203.