DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Election season is right around the corner and political campaigning is ramping up. It’s a good time to review campaigning restrictions placed on military members and civilian Department of Defense employees.
Restrictions are imposed to avoid any inference that an individual’s political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval or endorsement by the DoD. Even though there are restrictions on political activities, military members and civilian employees may vote for whomever they choose.
Active duty military
A military member on active duty may not campaign for a partisan candidate, engage in partisan fundraising activities, serve as an officer of a partisan club or speak before a partisan gathering. A military member may 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.
A military member may not display large political signs, banners or posters on his or her private vehicle. A political bumper sticker on a private vehicle is allowed. Also, a member may not display a partisan political sign, poster, banner or similar device visible to the public at his or her residence on a military installation, even if that residence is part of a privatized housing development.
Political activities guidance for military members can be found in DoD Directive 1344.10.
Restrictions on civilian employees’ political activities vary, depending on the employee’s position or office. Employees appointed by the president, those in senior executive service positions and employees of certain federal agencies outside the DoD are the most restricted. The majority, if not all, of civilian employees at Dyess Air Force Base qualify as, “less restricted employees,” the least restrictive category.
A less restricted civilian employee, while in his or her personal capacity, may volunteer with a political campaign or political organization. Examples of permitted volunteer activities 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.
However, a civilian employee may not use his or her official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election. A civilian employee is also prohibited from soliciting or receiving political contributions.
An employee may never engage in political activities while on duty, in a government building or government vehicle or while using government equipment. This means that an employee may not send or forward political e-mails or post political messages on a social media platform while in a federal building, including when off-duty, even if the employee is using a personal smartphone, tablet or computer.
Political guidance for civilian employees can be found in a group of laws called, “The Hatch Act.” The relevant laws are located at sections 7321 through 7327 of Title 5, United States Code and the act’s implementing regulations found at Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 734.
Limitations on financial contributions
No individual, regardless of military or civilian employee status, may give more than $2,000 per year to any individual candidate. This general rule has limited exceptions, which can be found at section 441a of Title 2, United States Code.
Civilian and military personnel may generally express their personal views on public issues or political candidates via social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter or personal blogs. When expressing a personal opinion, if personnel are identified by a social media site as DoD employees, the posting must clearly and prominently state that the views expressed are those of the individual only and not of the DoD.
As previously noted, active duty military members are prohibited from participating in partisan political activities. Therefore, while military members may “follow,” “friend” or “like” a political party or candidate running for partisan office, they may not post links to, “share” or “re-tweet” comments or tweets from the Facebook page or twitter account of a political party or candidate running for partisan office. Such activity is deemed to constitute participation in political activities.
Military members must be careful not to comment, post or link to material that violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice or service regulations. Examples include showing contempt for public officials, releasing sensitive information or posting unprofessional material that is prejudicial to good order and discipline under the UCMJ.