Facts about partisan political activity

  • Published
  • By Charlotte Boswell
  • Eglin Law Center
As the 2016 presidential election draws near, it's critical all service members and federal civilian employees understand the rules about partisan political activities.  The most important is all personnel are strictly prohibited from engaging in any partisan political activity in the workplace.

Partisan political activity refers to any activity directed at the success or failure of a political party or partisan political group, including candidates in a partisan race.  Whereas the Hatch Act in some cases allows federal civilian employees to actively participate in partisan political activities on their own time outside of work, DoD Directive 1344.10 generally prohibits service members from doing so even off-duty.  Some of the prohibitions in DoD Directive 1334.10 apply to service members not on active duty, including retirees and National Guardsmen.

That being said, you don't completely lose your First Amendment right to free speech because you work for Uncle Sam.  Not all political conversations are prohibited.  According to DoD Directive 1344.10, service members on active duty may "...express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces."

For example, if you're on active duty, you can display a normal-sized political bumper sticker on a private vehicle.  However, you can't display large political signs, banners, or posters on a private vehicle or in the work place.  If you live on base, you must not display such publically visible items, even if your residence is part of a privatized housing development.

It's also important to remember that although military members can express opinions, you must be careful not to violate Article 88 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, which prohibits contemptuous words against the president, vice president and other elected officials.  Lastly, whatever you do, don't show up in uniform at campaign rallies or in the media unless the DoD has specifically authorized your appearance.

The rules are more lax for most federal civilian personnel.  Off duty, you can campaign, make speeches, and distribute literature for or against a candidate in a partisan election.  However, you can't engage in partisan political activity while on duty, in the workplace, or in a federal building.  That means you can't show up to work wearing a partisan political button, clothing, or other such items.

Your use of social media and e-mail at work is also limited.  You can't post, share or retweet any items that display campaign logos or candidate photographs as profile or cover pictures on your personal social media account.  Additionally, you can't send or forward a partisan political e-mail from any e-mail account, even with a personal device, to subordinates at any time.  Soliciting or receiving political contributions is prohibited at all times. 

We are fortunate to live in a free country, where diversity of thought and opinion is a cornerstone of our society.  But please keep these rules in mind when engaging in political activities, as you are limited in certain circumstances.