Restrictions on Political Activities
by Military Members

There are a number of restrictions on the political activities of US military service members. Some are based in federal law, others in military regulations.

The main purpose for these restrictions is to avoid the implication/inference that you, as a military member, represent some official point of view.

The major prohibition is against any type of partisan activities. A partisan activity is defined as "activity directed toward the success or failure of a [particular] political party or candidate for a partisan political office or partisan political group."

With the road to the 2012 Presidential Election already making some interesting twists and turns, take a few minutes to review this information to make sure you don't run afoul of the regulations in supporting your favorite causes or candidates.

The restrictions are summed up succinctly in DoD Directive 1344.10.

href="#Political_Activity">Political Activity of Military Members

Permitted Political Activities

Prohibited Political Activities

Special Rules During Campaign Years

Lobbying Activities

Restrictions on Political Contributions

Political Activity of Military Members

(DoD Directive 1344.10)

The spirit and intent of the Directive prohibits any activity that may be viewed as directly or indirectly associating DoD with partisan politics. "Some activities not expressly prohibited may be contrary to the spirit and intent of . . . this Directive . . . . In determining whether an activity violates the traditional concept that Service members should not engage in partisan political activities, rules of reason and common sense shall apply. Any activity that may be viewed as associating the Department of Defense . . . or any component . . . directly or indirectly with a partisan political activity shall be avoided." DoDD 1344.10, para E3.4.

Permitted Political Activities

Limited 'private citizen' standard applies. A military member may:

  • Register, vote and express personal opinions;
  • Encourage other military members to exercise voting rights;
  • Join a political club, and attend political meetings and rallies as a spectator when not in uniform;
  • Make monetary contributions to a political organization;
  • Sign petitions for specific legislative action or place candidate’s name on the ballot;
  • Write letters to the editor expressing personal views (so long as not part of organized letter writing campaign);
  • Place bumper stickers on private vehicles.
  • Personal participation in local nonpartisan political activities is allowed, so long as:
    • Not in uniform.
    • No use of Government property or resources.
    • No interference with duty.
    • No implied Government position or involvement.

Prohibited Political Activities

A military member may not:

  • Use official authority to influence or interfere;
  • Be a candidate for, hold, or exercise functions of a civil office,
  • Participate in partisan political campaigns, speeches, articles, TV/radio discussions;
  • Serve in official capacity/sponsor a partisan political club;
  • Conduct political opinion survey;
  • Use contemptuous words against certain civilian leaders (10 U.S.C. 888) (applies to commissioned officers only)
  • March or ride in partisan parades;
  • Participate in organized effort to transport voters to polls;
  • Promote political dinners or fundraising events;
  • Attend partisan events as official representative of Armed Forces;
  • Display large signs/banners/posters on private vehicles.

Special Rules for Political Campaigns

In addition to those activities listed above, the following restrictions apply during campaign years (defined as beginning with the time the candidate makes a formal announcement or files with the elections commission, and ending one week after the election):

Use of DoD Resources During Campaign Years

  • Guidance is contained in SECDEF Message 072107Z JUN 06, DoD Public Affairs Policy Guidance Concerning Political Campaigns and Elections.
  • Applies to political campaigns only: Begins when candidate makes formal announcement, or files with election commission. Campaign ends one week after election.
  • Command newspapers - no campaign news or partisan discussions, cartoons, editorials, or commentaries. May not conduct surveys or straw polls.
  • No use of installations and/or facilities by any candidate for any activity that can be considered political in nature, including town hall meetings, speeches, fund raisers, press conferences. Candidates may receive briefings and tours, but may not engage in campaigning. While on the installation, candidates may not engage with the media.
  • Off-installation political events - no support, except joint color guards at national events.
  • Speeches, articles, and public comments of military personnel in their capacity as service representatives must not contain political material.

Lobbying Activities

And while we're on the subject, we might as well include the guidance on lobbying activities:

Anti-Lobbying Act, 18 U.S.C. 1913, prohibits grass roots lobbying efforts, i.e. encouraging citizens to contact their elected representatives about an issue. It does not prohibit agency officials expressing personal views regarding merits or deficiencies of legislation.

Recurring Appropriations Act provisions - e.g., DoD Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2004, P.L. 108-87, §§ 8001, 8012.

In Conclusion

Restrictions on Political Contributions

There are several laws and regulations that apply to all federal employees, including military. Regarding political contributions, a federal employee, whether civilian or military, may not:

If you have any questions with regard to political activities, consult your local base or staff Judge Advocate (JAG) or Legal Assistance Office.

To locate the military Legal Assistance Office nearest you, click here. If you are stationed outside CONUS, click here.

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