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Military, DOD civilians must know the rules for political activities

By Jacquelyn M. Christilles | 502nd Security Forces and Logistics Support Group Judge Advocate Office | Sept. 4, 2014

JBSA-FORT SAM HOUSTON — It is hard to miss when the political season is in full swing. Signs dot front yards and media is riddled with commercials.

Active duty military personnel and Department of Defense civilian employees are encouraged to carry out the obligations of citizenship by exercising their constitutional right to vote. As employees of the federal government, however, there are certain restrictions on political activities.

For active duty personnel, the general rule is that a member may not participate in "partisan political activities." That rule prohibits pretty much anything but mere attendance at fundraisers, rallies and conventions. Of course, members should not attend in uniform.

The rules also prohibit publishing political articles, letters or endorsements. When it comes to social media, these rules still apply. In short, a member can "like" something or someone on social media or express his or her views on a subject, but is prohibited from sharing the item with others or indicating DOD endorsement.

Finally, members are permitted to display appropriate bumper stickers, but large partisan political signs are not allowed.

Material on a bumper sticker or in a social media post that violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice or service regulation is still subject to disciplinary action. That means steer clear of messages that show contempt for public officials, release sensitive information, or contain unprofessional material that is prejudicial to good order and discipline under the UCMJ.

The above list of prohibitions is not exhaustive. There is an entire Department of Defense directive on this subject, so be mindful of political activities and check with your local legal office when in doubt.

Political activities for DOD civilian employees are regulated by a number of sources including a federal law called the Hatch Act.

DOD civilian employees, except Senior Executive Service employees, are allowed to volunteer with a political campaign or political organization while in their personal capacities. These employees are however, prohibited from soliciting or receiving political contributions.

As with many restrictions on use of the federal workplace, federal employees may never engage in political activities while on duty or in a federal building.

This means that employees may not send or forward political emails or post political messages to social media while in a federal building (including when off duty), even if the employee is using his or her personal smart phone, tablet or computer. Further guidance can be obtained from local legal offices.