Rules restrict political activity by DOD personnel

By Brad Rhen | Pennsylvania National GuardMarch 11, 2020

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ARLINGTON, Va. - With the 2020 election season in full swing, the Department of Defense officials are reminding military members and civilian employees of limits to what kinds of political activity they can participate in.

Those limits are outlined in the Hatch Act and in DoD Directive 1344.10, said Army Maj. Johnny Davis, with the Pennsylvania National Guard's staff judge advocate office.

Generally speaking, he said, civilian employees and military members acting in their official capacity may not engage in activities that associate the Department of Defense with any partisan political campaign, election, candidate, cause or issue.

"The Hatch Act is designed to guard against the misuse of federal employment to promote partisan politics," said Davis.

That doesn't mean, however, that military members and civilian employees can't participate in politics, vote or exercise their political beliefs -- including placing yard signs in front of one's home, Davis said.

"Freedom of speech allows you to place any yard signs and flag you wish at your home unless [you] live on post, then garrison regulations can restrict such displays," he said.

Both military members and civilian employees can also sign nominating petitions for candidates, express personal opinions about candidates and issues, attend political events as a spectator and donate to campaigns.

However, they can do so only if they don't act as - or aren't perceived as acting as - representatives of the armed forces or DoD in carrying out these activities. That means that while military members can attend a political event, doing so in uniform is prohibited, said Davis. Those prohibitions extend to social media as well, said National Guard officials.

Service members and civilian employees may not post, like, or share a post soliciting political contributions -- including invitations to fundraising events -- nor can they send to subordinates or a subset of friends including subordinates, any message directed at the success or failure of a political party or group or partisan candidate.

Additionally, the use of any official title or position when posting messages directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate in a partisan race or partisan political group, is also prohibited. That includes posting from a social media account that mentions or shows current service in the Guard, said Guard officials.

Military members and federal employees who violate the Hatch Act are subject to a range of disciplinary actions, including removal or debarment from service, reduction in grade, suspension, letter of reprimand or a fine of up to $1,000, Davis said.

Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy, National Guard Bureau, contributed to this story.

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