Service members in America’s Armed Forces have to adhere to certain rules and regulations regarding their political activity and the ways in which they participate in political events. With the 2020 election season ramping up, it seemed like a good time to go over some of these rules and the references they’re outlined in.
Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Mark Esper released the following video summarizing the importance of ethical conduct in the U.S. military, and explaining why it’s important to adhere to regulations regarding political activity.
“As the secretary has stated, we must continuously train and prepare so that we are ready to do what is right when ethical dilemmas arise,” said Scott Thompson, director of DOD’s Standards of Conduct Office.
“Training is not a one-time event. The secretary expects department leaders to be personally involved in training their organizations, and to talk about examples of ethical decision-making, good and bad. In addition to annual ethics training, leaders should routinely make conversations about ethics a natural part of meetings and engagements with personnel.”
You can find the full DOD policy for service members and political acts in Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, Political Activities for Members of the Armed Forces.
Service members are certainly allowed to vote for any candidate they wish, but they are barred from doing certain things that may suggest the branch itself supports a particular candidate. As such, speaking at voting events in uniform, for instance, is barred by regulation.
Political Rules for Service Members: What you can and can’t do:
- Register to vote and vote.
- Make personal monetary donations.
- Express personal views. This is the same as writing a letter to the editor, however, do not engage in any political partisan activity.
- Attend political meetings or rallies as a spectator when not in uniform
- Include a disclaimer if you are identifiable as a military member.
- “Friend,” “like” or “follow” the Facebook page or Twitter account of a political party or partisan candidate, campaign or group. But refrain from engaging in political activities with respect to partisan political entities’ accounts that would constitute political activity.
- Join a political club and attend its meetings when not in uniform
- Display a small political sticker on your vehicle or wear a political button when not in uniform and not on duty
- Forward all inquiries from political campaign organizations to a public affairs officer for awareness and appropriate action.
- Suggest that others “like, “friend,” or “follow” a partisan account.
- Solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue
- Participate in partisan political fundraising activities or solicit political contributions
- Forward invitations to partisan events.
- Write or publish partisan political articles signed or authorized by the member for soliciting votes for or against a partisan political party or candidate
- Serve as an officer for or sponsor of a partisan political club
- Speak to a partisan political gathering to promote a partisan political party or candidate
- Post direct links of “likes” to partisan sites.
- Solicit others or fundraise.
- Imply or appear to imply Department of Defense sponsorship, approval or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign or cause.
- Participate in any radio, television, or other program or group discussion as an advocate of a partisan political party or candidate
- Distribute partisan political literature
- Campaign for a candidate on or off base.
- March in a partisan parade.
- Wear a military uniform to a partisan event.
- Attempt to influence the voting or participation of any other service member.
- Engage in the public or organized recruitment of others to become partisan candidates for nomination or election to a civil office
- Display a large political sign, banner, or poster on the top or side of a member’s vehicle
- Use contemptuous words concerning the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Homeland Security or the Governor or legislature of any State, Commonwealth or possession in which member is on duty or present.
If you have questions or concerns regarding what you can and can’t do during this election season, reach out to members of your chain of command or your local command legal office. These leaders can help you exercise your rights as a citizen without violating regulations as outlined in Directive 1344.10.