Know the rules about political activity
March 22, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Voting is an important right that affords every American the opportunity to have a personal voice in shaping our country's future. In our political process, every vote counts, and one vote can make a world of difference.
Let me make it clear that our leaders need to stress to our Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians that they should take part in the election process -- in my view, it's a right that too few citizens exercise. The Army encourages its Soldiers, civilians and all eligible community members to exercise the right to vote. Our unit voting officers work diligently to provide our Soldiers and their Families with the necessary resources to get to the voting booth and for registering in their home states as absentees. I am hopeful that all of you register and take part in this most fundamental democratic process.
However, as members of the military there are limits as to what we can and cannot do as part of the political process, and this is so that we maintain our position of neutrality. We need to make sure that we do not violate our neutral, collective, apolitical stance so that we never breach the public's trust in the military profession.
It goes without saying that during the year of a presidential election, there is an abundance of political messaging and activities. Take a look at the news at any time and you will likely see a great number of stories dealing with issues surrounding Republican presidential hopefuls and an equal number of news stories scrutinizing our current commander in chief.
When the political fanfare is at full throttle down the stretch, Soldiers and federal employees at Fort Jackson must stay focused on the responsibilities and obligations as members of the government work force.
The Department of Defense continuously renews its emphasis on the rules limiting what service members are permitted to do regarding political activities. From time to time, DoD revises rules about candidacy and campaigning as it deems necessary.
We need to make sure that we stay abreast of these mandates and responsibilities about the ethics requirements governing public activities -- because there are rules that apply to Soldiers and other rules that federal employees must follow.
For example, a Soldier is allowed to express his or her personal opinion about a political candidate -- but just not as a representative of the Army. A Soldier can attend partisan and non-partisan political gatherings -- but not in uniform. A Soldier may also make contributions to a political party or organization. However, a Soldier may not be a candidate or hold a civil office, except under limited conditions.
Our military's ethics standards do not prohibit an Army civilian from campaigning for or against a particular candidate in a partisan election.
That's OK, so long as the campaigning does not take place on post and in the workplace. There are many other rules and distinctions -- far too many to mention in this space. A good rule of thumb is that any public or outward involvement in support of partisan political activity during which it could possibly appear that you are acting as a spokesman for the Army is more than likely prohibited.
For more clarification, Soldiers should consult AR 600-20 and DODDIR 1344.10 for guidance. Civilians should refer to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel website at
http://www.osc.gov/hatchact.htm for more information. To view an easily understandable list of what's OK to do and what's not OK, I would suggest that you take a look at this website: http://armylive.dodlive.mil/index.php/2012/01/know-the-facts-election-2012/. If you have a question reference absentee ballots I recommend you refer to website www.fvap.gov.
Finally, if there are still questions, Fort Jackson's Staff Judge Advocate's administrative law section should be able to answer them.
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