WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 28, 2012) — With election season fast approaching, the Department of Defense published a set of guidelines June 19, for military personnel detailing what’s allowed and what’s restricted when participating in political activities.
The four-page DOD memorandum, signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, opens with an urging to service members to vote and exercise their civic ability. However, the document also cautions military personnel about how their public behavior could reflect positively or negatively on the military.
“Generally, all service members are prohibited from acting in any manner that gives rise to the inference of approval or endorsement of candidates for political office by DOD or the U.S. military,” the memo stated.
The document cites wearing a military uniform while taking part in political activism as an example of violating the rules because it implies military endorsement. Also included in the list of prohibited activities is holding a leadership position in a political club; running for civil office; posting large signs on a privately owned vehicle; or officially representing the armed forces at a political event.
“All military personnel shall avoid any activity that may be contrary to the spirit or intent of the directive,” the memo stated.
In addition to specifying which actions are considered unfavorable, there are also a number of guidelines explaining allowable behavior for military personnel. These include:
- giving personal political opinions unaffiliated with the military
- becoming a member of a political club
- posting a political bumper sticker on a privately owned vehicle
- donating money to a political party
The memo further explains that these are not all-inclusive rules, but are more of a broad set of parameters meant to illustrate acceptable and unacceptable actions. Exceptions and more in-depth regulations can be found in the hyperlinks attached to the document.
“The [record] does not constitute a complete listing of permissible or impermissible activities,” according to the memo. “Reference to the specific language of DOD Directive 1344.10 [Guidance for Military Personnel] is appropriate in all instances.”
The document also addresses more complicated matters regarding political activity, such as social media. According to Public Affairs Guidance for Political Campaigns and Elections, a document linked to the memo, service members may express their personal opinions via social media, as long as they do not tie those views to the DOD.
In addition, the memorandum outlines guidelines for federal employees concerning what the Hatch Act allows and doesn’t when it comes to political activities.
The release of the document was intended to clarify the boundaries regarding political activity among military personnel, officials said. While it is not a comprehensive list, they said service members and employees are expected to abide by the standards and exercise judgment in making decisions.