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Politics and military service are a difficult mix

Posted by attorney Philip Cave

It is 2012, it is a presidential election year. That means there are potential problems for military personnel (active, Guard, Reserve, or retired) who want to be involved in the political process. Here are links to an example of how the military member can get in trouble over politics.

Nothing in the rules prohibits or restricts a military member registering to vote or voting, or donating to politicians or political parties; that is the personal choice of each member. What the rules do restrict or limit is how an individual may advocate on behalf of a political party, candidate, or elected official. The greatest restriction is that Active-duty servicemembers are strictly prohibited from campaigning for political office or actively taking part in a political campaign — even behind the scenes.

Here’s a reminder, from Stars & Stripes, that politicking in uniform is not allowed.

Here is a piece by Bryant Jordan on with more on the recent “politicking" of a uniformed Reserve Soldier.

Where can I find the rules and how do they apply to me.

DoD Directive 1344.10, Subj: Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces.

Air Force Instruction 51-902., Subj: Political Activities by Members of the US Air Force.

Army AR 600-200., Subj: Army Command Policy, Para. 5-3, Political Activity, and Appendix B.

Coast Guard

Navy. SECNAVINST 5720.44, Subj: Public Affairs Policy and Navy Regulations.

Marine Corps Order 5370.7B., Subj: Political Activities.

Some general principles.

Rallies. You CAN attend a political rally as a spectator. You CANNOT wear your uniform to the rally. You CANNOT speak in front of the rally.

Letters-to-the-Editor. You CAN write a letter to the editor of a paper expressing your personal view calling for the repeal or passing of legislation and sign it as a service member.

Talking to or writing to your Member of Congress. You CAN express your personal opinion to Congress about legislation or personal issues. You CANNOT tell your Congressperson that you are speaking on behalf of your unit or the military when you tell him/her that DADT should be repealed. The right to communicate with Congress is found in Article 138, UCMJ, regarding complaints of wrongs. And you are protected from retaliation by statute, 10 U. S. Code 1034.

Talking on the radio/TV or at a program/group discussion. You CAN express your personal opinion when interviewed by the press, unless in uniform. You CANNOT tell the press that you represent the armed forces.

Petition. You CAN sign a petition. You CANNOT claim to represent the military when signing a petition.

Bumper Sticker. You CAN put a political oriented bumper sticker on your personal car. You CANNOT put bumper stickers on military vehicles.

Voting. You CAN vote for candidates who support your views. You CAN encourage other people to vote during election times; but you cannot encourage them to vote for a particular candidate or party. You CANNOT campaign for a particular candidate representing yourself as a military member.

Contributions. You CAN contribute money to political organizations.

Fundraisers. You CAN attend a political dinner or similar fundraiser, but NOT in uniform. You CANNOT sell tickets for, or otherwise actively promote, the dinner or similar fundraising events.

There are various criminal statutes that also affect what, when, where, and how.

2 U.S.C. § 441a. Federal election campaigns: limitation on contributions and expenditures.

10 U.S.C. § 973: duties of officers on active duty; performance of civil functions restricted.

18 U.S.C. Chapter 29, Elections and Political Activities; 18 U.S.C. § 1913.

DoD 5500.7-R, Joint Ethics Regulation, Chapters 2, 3, 5 & 6.

Article 88, UCMJ.

Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Article 92, UCMJ. Violations of the various regulations and laws will likely be prosecuted under this article as an orders violation.

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