Military members and Defense Department employees are encouraged to vote and participate in the political process. At the same time, the appearance of military influence of the political process must be avoided.
Thus, participation in political activities by military members and DOD employees is limited by law in order to ensure that a real or perceived conflict of interest does not arise that would interfere with the full and impartial performance of official duties.
For military members, participation is limited specifically by Federal Law by DOD Directive 1344.10. In the Air Force, AFI 51-902 addresses Political Activities by Members of the USAF. It notes, for instance, that promoting and encouraging voting, without attempting to influence for whom or what the vote is for, is an example of an acceptable political activity.
- Also outlined in the AFI is the following noninclusive list of permissible activities:
- Attending political meetings as a spectator not in uniform
- Signing petitions as a private citizen if no obligation for participation in partisan political activity is incurred
- Writing letters to the editor or an article expressing personal views concerning public, nonpartisan issues without promoting a partisan political cause
- Appointing voting officers
- Wearing badges and buttons in civilian attire and off-duty
- Displaying a political bumper sticker on a private automobile – large political signs, banners or posters, however, are not authorized
- Prohibited activities by military members include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The use of official authority or influence to interfere with an election
- Soliciting votes for a particular candidate or issue
- Running for or holding most civil offices
- Participating in partisan political management, campaigns or conventions, or making public speeches in the course of such activity
- Participating in any radio, television or other program or group discussion as an advocate of a partisan political party or candidate
- Attending, as an official Air Force representative, partisan political events, or making campaign contributions to a partisan political candidate
- Soliciting or receiving a campaign contribution from another member of the Armed Forces or from a civilian employee for promoting a political objective or cause
- Using contemptuous words against the office holders described in 10 U.S.C. 888
- Selling tickets for, or actively promoting political dinners and the like
- Distributing partisan political petitions, literature, badges or buttons
Violations of the aforementioned are chargeable under Article 92 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice for failure to obey a lawful order or regulation. Additionally, Article 88 of the UCMJ for contempt toward officials applies to commissioned officers and is punitive in nature.
For civilian employees, participation in political activities is limited by the Hatch Act, related statutes and implementing regulations.
- Civilian employees may not use their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election, this includes:
- Using their official titles while participating in a permitted political activity
- Using their authority to coerce anyone into participating in a political activity
- Soliciting or receiving uncompensated volunteer services from a subordinate
- Soliciting or discouraging the participation in a political activity of anyone with official natters before the DOD
- Civilian employees also may not participate in the following political fundraising activities:
- Soliciting or receiving political contributions (except under limited circumstances in relation with certain local elections or federal labor organizations)
- Allowing the use of their official title in relation with political fundraising, or hosting or sponsoring a political fundraiser
- Civilian employees may not run for partisan office. Nor may they participate in political activities while on duty, while in a government office or building or while using a government vehicle even if the activity would be otherwise permissible.
- Finally, employees may not use work email to send messages to a high volume of people with whom they have minimal contact for the purpose of encouraging the recipients of the email to support or oppose a candidate, political party or partisan group.