FORT LEE, Va. (February 9, 2012)-As the Republican primaries continue across America - the Virginia GOP primary set is for March 6, Super Tuesday - military and Department of Defense civilians should keep in mind the regulations for their involvement in political activities.
Earlier this year, an Army Reserve Soldier - while not on active status - attended a rally for Ron Paul while in uniform, which could mislead others as he was viewed as a representative of the armed forces. Servicemembers are barred from participating in any political activities while in uniform.
Several sets of rules help to protect the integrity of the political process. DoD Directive 1344.10 applies to members of the armed forces, whether they serve on active duty, as members of the reserve components not on active duty, as National Guard members in a nonfederal status, and military retirees.
That's not to imply, however, that military members and civilian employees can't participate in politics. In fact, DoD has a long-standing policy of encouraging members to carry out the obligations of citizenship, officials said. DoD encourages its military and civilian members to register to vote and vote as they choose, they said. Both groups can sign nominating petitions for candidates and express their personal opinions about candidates and issues.
However, officials emphasized, they can do so only if they don't act as - or aren't perceived as - representatives of the armed forces in carrying out these activities.
Beyond that, the list of do's and don'ts differs depending on whether the employee is a member of the armed forces, a career civil service employee, a political appointee or a member of the career Senior Executive Service, officials said.
Military members, for example, may attend political meetings or rallies only as spectators and not in uniform. They're not permitted to make public political speeches, serve in any official capacity in partisan groups or participate in partisan political campaigns or conventions.
In addition, the Hatch Act applies to federal civilian employees, and these individuals also are subject to widely published DoD guidance that discusses participation in political campaigns and elections.
These rules are designed to prevent military members' or federal civilian employees' participation in political activities that imply - or even appear to imply - official sponsorship, approval or endorsement, officials said. The concern, they explained, is that actual or perceived partisanship could undermine the legitimacy of the military profession and department.
Most civilian DoD employees, whose political activities are governed by the Hatch Act, are permitted to be active in and speak before political gatherings and serve as officers of political parties or partisan groups, officials said. These activities, however, cannot involve fund raising.
Civilian employees also are permitted to manage campaigns, distribute literature, write political articles or serve as a spokesperson for a party or candidate.
There are, however, exceptions to this, including but not limited to Senior Executive Service.
While the do's and don'ts concerning political activity may vary, the basic tenets hold true for all DoD employees.
The bottom line, officials said, is that they should steer clear of any activity that may be reasonably viewed as directly or indirectly associating DoD or the military with a partisan political activity, or that "is otherwise contrary to the spirit or intent" of the rules described.
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
• Take an active role in partisan political activity, including serving in an official capacity, advocating in the media, conducting opinion polls or other clerical duties during a campaign, marching in a parade or actively promote fund raisers
Civilian employees may not:
• Use their official authority or influence to interfere with an election
• Solicit, accept or receive political contributions, unless both individuals are members of the same federal labor organization or employee organization, and the one solicited is not a subordinate employee
• Knowingly solicit or discourage the political activity of any person who has business before the agency
• Engage in political activity while on duty, in any government office, wearing an official uniform or while in a government vehicle
• Be candidates for public office in partisan elections
• Wear political buttons on duty