October 9, 2015

It’s a political world …

by Senior Airman JOSEHUA BIRD
56th Fighter Wing Legal

It’s the most wonderful time of the [every four] year[s]. That magical period when you cannot enjoy seven minutes of your favorite sitcom without hearing all the juicy details describing presidential hopeful “X” stiffing his waitress on that tip 45 years ago. You get to engage in those riveting political discussions that turn you against even those that you hold most dear in your life.

Indeed, there is a lot involved with the campaign process, even at the voter level. In reality many voters take their civic duty quite seriously: from wearing their campaign buttons with giddy pride, to adorning their lawns with advocacy propaganda, and lining the streets while chanting those indiscernible moans in support of their respective political sideshows. Airmen, like all citizens, are often enticed to participate in the political arena. However, it is important for Airmen to understand the boundaries of their permissible involvement in such matters.

AFI 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the US Air Force, governs the extent to which Airmen may participate in political activities. Airmen are encouraged to exercise their rights of citizenship when it comes to voting and engaging in campaign activities. Airmen with U.S. citizenship have rights that are not impeded by AFI 51-902. Airmen are free to vote and express their opinions on political issues and candidates; however, they cannot do so as a representative of the Air Force or the Defense Department. Airmen must act exclusively out of their official capacity while participating in political activities or voicing their personal opinions.

Some Airmen may take their voice to the Internet. What they must remember is that they cannot express through any social media outlet, which reveals their status as military members, their personal political opinions, because those opinions may be viewed as an expression in that member’s official capacity. Airmen should provide a disclaimer that any statement is the member’s own personal view and not the view of the Air Force.

Airmen are restricted from engaging in political activities that may be detrimental to good order and discipline. Members may not participate, beyond spectating while not in uniform, in partisan political fundraising activities (e.g. rallies). Airmen are also prohibited from using official authority to interfere with any part of the election process. Airmen must not publish endorsements that solicit votes for or against any partisan political party. Airmen are further restricted from serving in an official capacity or from being listed as a sponsor of a partisan political organization. Airmen may not participate in any speeches or discussions before any partisan political activity. Generally, the restrictions placed on Airmen forbid them from publicly supporting any partisan political action.

As we push forward into the election year, it will be important for Airmen to understand how they are allowed to support any political activity. The basic principles here are to avoid involvement in partisan political activities beyond spectatorship, and Airmen must separate themselves from their official capacity when engaging in the political scene on a personal level. If there is any uncertainty or question regarding proper involvement in political activities, the legal office will provide clarity. For more information, call 623-856-6901.

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