It's an election year, what can I do?
By Lt. Col. Ratna C. Gupta, Staff Judge Advocate, 302nd Airlift Wing
/ Published February 21, 2012
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- This year is an election year and as a military member or federal government employee, it is likely you have questions about your involvement in the political process.
DoD Directive 1344.10 governs how military members (Active, Reserve, Guard, or retired) should conduct themselves in the political process. The Hatch Act applies to federal civilian employees (Air Reserve Technicians fall under this rule when in civilian status), and governs participation in campaigns and elections as well. These concepts shouldn't be foreign to any of our 302nd Airlift Wing Air Force Reservists but in case this is the first time you are hearing about it, here are some basic rules to remember during an election year.
DO: Register to vote.
DO: Attend rallies or political meetings as a spectator, caucus as a voter, or participate in a campaign for a candidate in your personal capacity only.
DO NOT: Participate in any political activity in uniform.
DO NOT: Participate in any of the activities during duty hours (unless you are on leave).
DO NOT: Give your rank and title/position to endorse a candidate or trash another. Military members cannot make public political speeches or serve in any official capacity in partisan groups, campaigns, or conventions.
DO NOT: Hand out flyers, brochures or display bumper stickers, signs, etc. at your workplace. Do place tasteful bumper stickers or signs in your car window (subject to base rules- check your base regulations).
DO NOT: Talk with subordinates about who you are voting for, or openly tell them how to vote. Do not endorse specific candidates within ear shot of them.
DO NOT: Defame or use inappropriate language against the current Commander in Chief even if you disagree with policy calls or legislation.
DO NOT: Use the government e-mail systems or internet for political activity and do not communicate to other members of the military or civilians regarding a candidate for office.
DO: Remember that the same rules apply to social media - including e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. Use good judgment and common sense in all you do.
Why? As a Military Reservist or civilian, you work in the Executive Branch (reports directly to the President) and therefore, we must remain non-partisan even if you feel a certain way. It undermines the legitimacy of our armed forces if we begin to openly and publicly criticize in our official capacity our current or future Commander in Chief.
DO: Know that the rules for civilian employees are slightly different and they are permitted to speak at events in their personal capacity, distribute literature, manage campaigns, or serve as officers of political parties or partisan groups in their personal capacity. For Reservists, the DOD rules are more restrictive so make sure you follow the more restrictive rules of what Reservists can and cannot do.
Here are some examples that you may be able to relate to and hopefully will help you as we navigate the political process this coming year. In the end, common sense and good judgment are really the two bottom line rules you should remember.
Recently, an Army Soldier and member of the 416th Theater Engineer Company stepped onto the stage at Ron Paul's headquarters in Iowa, in uniform to publicly endorse Mr. Paul as a candidate for political office. He violated the law and is now being disciplined by his superiors for his actions.
A Veterans Administration civilian employee was forced to retire in 2004 after he came to the office sporting a Kerry T-shirt, handing out Kerry for president stickers to his co-workers. This is a violation of the Hatch Act and would also violate the DoD Directive if a military member did this.
A civilian employee sent out an e-mail to his co-workers inviting them to a political dinner to support a particular candidate, and this employee was suspended. Use of government resources for political activity is not permitted. You cannot even openly, at the workplace, or in an official capacity, support the incumbent president. An Obama 2012 sticker or invite to a fundraising dinner is a violation of the Hatch Act and the DoD Directive.
What if you have a personal blog? As long as your blog is written in your personal capacity and not with government resources, and not shared with others in the workplace you may be able to post your views there but tread carefully. If other military members readily know this is your blog and take it as an endorsement, you may have violated the DoD directive.
Additionally, if you are having private conversations with your friends and relatives and co-workers on issues, policies, etc., it may be okay but keep in mind subordinates are always listening and it is not appropriate to discuss politics in the workplace and certainly is not appropriate to say disparaging things about others.
Always remember, "if it feels funny" or "not so right," then you probably shouldn't be doing it or you should ask your legal office. You should participate in the political process but just keep in mind some basic rules of engagement so you don't end up being the news or an example of what not to do. As military members, I urge you to exercise sound judgment and common sense during this upcoming political season and if you have questions, do not hesitate to ask.