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NEWS | Sept. 23, 2010

Political dos and don't during campaign season

The 2010 elections are less than six weeks away and political races are heating up.

While exercising a right to vote is the duty of all Americans, military and civilian federal employees should understand the laws and regulations that outline what constitutes appropriate participation in the political process.

Although the rules for civilian employees are slightly less restrictive, there are common provisions that apply to both civilian employees and military members.

The provisions for federal employees are published in the 5 U.S.C. 7321, "The Hatch Act," DODD 1344.10 and Air Force Instruction 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force.

According to Arlene Christilles, 802nd Mission Support Group Judge Advocate Office, it is important that Airmen and civilian employees become familiar with the laws and regulations that outline their appropriate participation in the political process.

"The foundation of public service is public trust; and as public servants, we must refrain from any activity that tends to give the appearance of impropriety that might shake that public trust.

Improper involvement in the political process would definitely give the appearance of impropriety," she said.

Federal employees are encouraged to participate in the political process. However, these rules are established to ensure that partisan politics and government service are properly and reasonably attenuated to avoid even the appearance of official endorsement of candidates or issues.

The Department of Defense's Federal Voting Assistance program website,, offers servicemembers and civilians voting information, including state-by-state absentee voting instructions and registration deadlines.

Civilian employees may participate in the following political organization activities:
· belong to a political party or partisan group;
· serve as officers of a political party or partisan group;
· attend and participate in a political convention, caucus, or rally, and
· serve as delegates to a political party convention.

Civilian employees may take an active part in a political campaign, which includes:
· displaying a political sign, sticker, button, or similar material (but not while on duty, in a government office or building, or using a government vehicle);
· initiating or circulating partisan nominating petitions;
· canvassing for votes;
· addressing a political convention, caucus, or rally on behalf of a candidate;
· distributing campaign literature;
· participating in election-related activities like voting, acting as recorders, watchers, or challengers at a polling place, driving voters to polling places and running for non-partisan office (that is, an office to which political parties may not designate candidates).

Civilian employees may participate in the following political fundraising activities:
· making a financial political contribution;
· soliciting or receiving uncompensated volunteer services;
· attending, addressing, or being featured guests at a political fundraiser, and
· managing or organizing a political fundraiser hosted or sponsored by others.

Civilian employees may not use their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election, which 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 matters before the DoD;

Civilian employees may not participate in the following political fundraising activities:
· solicit or receive political contributions (except under limited circumstances in relation with certain local elections or Federal labor organization);
· solicit contributions anonymously over the telephone;
· allow the use of their official titles in relation with political fundraising; and hosting or sponsoring a political fundraiser.
· run for partisan office (except as independent candidates in certain local elections);
· participate in a permitted political activity while on duty, while in a government office or building, or while using a government vehicle.

Servicemembers may:
· register, vote and express opinions on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the U.S. armed forces;
· attend partisan or nonpartisan political meetings, rallies or conventions as a spectator and not in uniform;
· join a political club and attend meetings as a spectator;
· display bumper stickers on a personally owned vehicle or wear campaign buttons on civilian clothes;
· write a letter to the editor regarding public issues, but cannot promote a partisan political cause or candidate, and
· make a political contribution to an organization supporting a particular candidate, but cannot contribute to the candidate personally.

Servicemembers may not:
· participate in partisan political campaigns, except as a spectator, or make public speeches related to such activity;
· solicit votes or contributions for a particular candidate or issue;
· use official government authority or influence to interfere with or affect the outcome of an election;
· publish articles or opinions promoting or discouraging partisan political issues or candidates;
· run for or hold civil office;
· may not take an active role in partisan political activity, including serving in an official capacity, advocating in media, conducting opinion polls or other clerical duties during a campaign, marching in a parade or actively promoting fundraisers.

Ms. Christilles said although current rules and regulations don't specifically address social media websites, the rules still apply.

"Members should be aware that while political blogging or posting may be allowed during off-duty hours, authors must be careful not to use their official positions and duty titles to bolster the opinions they post concerning political parties, partisan candidates, or partisan groups," she said.

It is also improper for authors to suggest or ask that readers make contributions to a political party, partisan political candidate, or partisan political group.

"They should not post links to the contribution page of any of those entities' or individuals' websites. Also, supervisors who have subordinates on their 'friends' list must be especially careful about how they post political opinions," she said.

For more information about the rules and regulations regarding participation in political campaigns, call the base legal office civil law division at 671-3362 or, for civilian employees, the civilian personnel office at 671-4118.