The dos and don'ts of the political season
By Air Force 2nd Lt. Abraham J. Raymond, 1st Flying Training Wing Legal Office
/ Published January 04, 2012
VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- With the presidential primaries lurking around the corner, there are a few things service members must remember during this upcoming political season.
When you joined the military or became a federal employee, you did so with the knowledge that this decision came with some sacrifice.
Everyone is encouraged to register to vote, research candidates and vote for the candidates. However, for this representative democracy to function properly, civil servants and military professionals cannot be seen as partisans.
Both military members and federal employees work for the government, and, in doing so, they must support elected officials regardless of whether or not they voted for or against particular candidates. For this reason, among others, getting a paycheck directly from the federal government necessarily limits a person's ability to participate in some aspects of the political process.
Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, "Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty," and Air Force Instruction 51-902, "Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force," outline permitted and restricted political actions for active military members. Service members who violate these rules may face punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
There are some reoccurring issues surrounding prohibited political activities. A frequent issue concerns whether or not an individual can display a large political sign on his or her car or truck. Displaying a large political sign on your automobile is prohibited. However, members are allowed to display a political bumper sticker on their vehicle.
Military members are prohibited from using official authority to influence an election or solicit votes for a specific candidate or issue.
Military members are limited in their involvement in the political process off duty as well. This includes being a candidate for, or holding, political office, except in those circumstances authorized by the AFI.
Speaking at any partisan political gathering, including a radio or television program, and advocating for a partisan political candidate or party is also prohibited.
Military members should reference AFI 51-902 when they have any questions regarding the legality of their political activities
Rules governing political activities by government civilians are found in a federal law known as the Hatch Act. DOD civilians who violate the Hatch Act face adverse personnel actions, including suspensions and employment termination.
Most restrictions surrounding the Hatch Act are centered on the prevention of supervisors influencing subordinates to participate in or contribute to partisan groups or candidates. Federal employees may not display partisan political campaign materials in the workplace.
While federal employees may express opinions about candidates and issues when off duty, when on duty, in uniform, in a federal building, or in a federally owned or leased vehicle, federal employees may not express opinions directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office or partisan political group.
There are three important things to remember during the upcoming political season. First, regardless of status, using command influence to sway subordinates to vote for a particular party, candidate or issue is prohibited by law or directive.
Second, when you receive a paycheck from the federal government, some aspects of your political freedom are limited.
Third, if you are unsure whether or not a political activity is approved, reference AFI 51-902 or contact your base legal office.