USAREC Staff Judge Advocate
July 05, 2016
Recruiters and U.S. military personnel are encouraged to take part in the political process. This includes registering to vote, voting in elections, following the issues in the media, and within certain limitations, expressing their views and opinions on their personal time.
However, the Department of Defense also has a long-standing policy to avoid any perception of endorsement of any political candidate, campaign, and partisan political cause. There are several important rules Soldiers must know and follow.
Never use DOD resources to promote political candidates or partisan causes
Government information systems are not public forums - DOD personnel are not allowed to use them to express their political opinions or engage in political discourse.
Soldiers may not use Defense Department resources, including computers, telephones, smartphones, facilities, and official time to support or promote political candidates and partisan causes, or to forward messages, literature, or images with political content to promote a political candidate or partisan cause.
Soldiers may not display campaign material, such as, literature, posters, or bumper stickers at government facilities or on government equipment and vehicles.
Never use your official position, rank, or title to endorse a political candidate or partisan political cause
Soldiers must not use their official position, rank, or title, to endorse or promote a political candidate, partisan cause, or activity. Soldiers may not allow a political candidate or partisan cause to use his or her name and rank or image to imply official endorsement of the candidate or cause.
Be extra careful when attending functions where political candidates are present and avoid any perception that you, as a Soldier or on behalf of DOD, support or endorse the candidate or partisan cause.
Soldiers may attend partisan political events but not in uniform. Soldiers are strictly prohibited from appearing in uniform at partisan political rallies and events, to include rallies, campaign speeches, parades, and victory celebrations.
The only exception to this rule is that joint armed forces color guards are permitted to post the colors during the opening ceremonies of the national conventions of major political parties formally recognized by the Federal Election Commission.
Never engage in partisan political activities while on active duty
While a Soldier may attend a political event while not in uniform, a Soldier on active duty may not actively participate in a political or partisan event or activity, whether or not the Soldier is wearing his or her uniform.
Soldiers may not speak at political events or participate in radio or television programs and panel discussions advocating a political candidate or partisan cause.
Soldiers may not march or ride in partisan political parades. While a Soldier may write a letter to the editor of a newspaper or magazine expressing his or her personal opinion, the Soldier may not imply DOD endorsement of his or her position.
Soldiers may not write articles for publication, such as a letter to the editor or a blog that is available to the general public to solicit votes for a political candidate or party.
There is a fine line between expressing one's personal political opinion - which is permissible - and engaging in partisan political activity - which is prohibited. Soliciting votes for a political candidate or party crosses that line.
Soldiers may not work as a paid employee or volunteer for a political candidate, campaign, or party. Soldiers may not distribute partisan political literature, assist with conducting public opinion surveys on behalf of a political candidate, party, or group, or participate in any political organization's effort to transport voters to the polls, regardless of whether they are wearing their uniform or civilian clothes.
Soldiers may contribute to political candidates and parties, but a Soldier may not help raise funds on behalf of a political candidate, party, or partisan cause.
Be careful when using social media platforms
Soldiers may only use government equipment, such as, laptops and smart phones, for official business purposes and may never use these devices to engage in partisan political activities.
When accessing social media platforms on their personal time with their personal-owned devices, Soldiers may express their personal beliefs and opinions; however, they must avoid any implication that DOD or the Army supports or endorses their opinions.
If the site identifies the individual as a Soldier on active duty, the site must also clearly and prominently state that the views expressed by the Soldier are his or her own and not those of the DOD or U.S. Army.
Active-duty Soldiers must refrain from engaging in partisan political activity. Therefore, Soldiers may not use a social media platform to solicit votes for political candidates and parties, distribute literature or solicitations on behalf of political candidates and parties, or provide a link to a political candidate's campaign or a party website.
For more information about political activities by members of the armed forces, consult the references cited in this article, your brigade judge advocate, or U.S. Army Recruiting Command Headquarters Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.
This article is based upon the following sources:
- DoD Directive 1344.10, Subject: Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces, 19 Feb 08, Click for PDF
- Army Regulation 600-20, Army Command Policy, 8 Nov 14, paragraph 5-3, Click for PDF
- Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Army Memorandum, Subject: 2016 Election Year Guidance, 22 Mar 16, Click for PDF
- 2016 DoD Public Affairs Guidance for Political Campaigns and Elections, Click for PDF, and
- Information Papers produced by DoD and Department of the Army Ethics Counselors, available through your brigade judge advocate, Click for PDF