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Political activity rules exist for Soldiers

By Calun Reece | SJA.AdLaw | August 21, 2012

As the 2012 Presidential election quickly approaches, active-duty Soldiers should be aware of the political "do's and don'ts" during political elections.

General guidelines of permissible and prohibited activities for active-duty Soldiers, according to the Judge Advocate General website, are as follows:

Permissible activities:

• Registering, voting and expressing opinions on political candidates and issues, but not as representatives of the Army.

• Providing monetary contributions to political organizations or parties.

• Attending partisan or nonpartisan political meetings or rallies as spectators, when not in uniform.

• Writing letters to the editor of a newspaper in a personal capacity, expressing personal views on public issues or political candidates, as long as this is not part of an organized letter-writing campaign or concerted solicitation of votes for or against a political party, partisan political cause or candidate.

Prohibited activities:

• Participation in partisan political management, campaigns, conventions or fundraising.

• Providing monetary contributions to another member of the armed forces serving on active duty or to an employee of the federal government.

• Marching or riding in a partisan political campaign.

• Speaking before a partisan political gathering.

• Wearing a uniform or using government property or facilities while participating in local nonpartisan political activities. This also applies to Army Reserve Soldiers not on active duty.

• Engaging in conduct that may imply the Army has taken an official position on, or is otherwise involved in, a local political campaign or issue. This also applies to Army Reserve Soldiers not on active duty.

"I think the main distinction here is you … cannot use your official position to promote a candidate or a cause – anything related to partisan politics – I would say that's the biggest thing," said Maureen Redeker, administrative law attorney, Fort Riley Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.

Army Reservists also must abide by the same rules for participating in any political activity.

"Even if you're in a Reserve capacity, that doesn't mean you can throw your uniform on and go down and campaign for somebody – rules are the same for both when it comes to representing the (Department of Defense)," said Matthew Shelton, chief, Legal Assistance Office, Fort Riley OSJA.

Campaign signs posted on front lawns and bumper stickers tend to be the most reoccurring theme at Fort Riley, Shelton said.

Political bumper stickers are allowed, (as long as they are not defamatory), on personal vehicles, but campaign signs are not allowed to be posted, he said.

All social media accounts also are restricted to permissible and prohibited activities for active-duty Soldiers as well.

"People don't realize that. They need to be careful of their social media accounts because it's still conducted by a Soldier," Shelton said.

All Soldiers need to be aware of the seriousness of the issues before partaking in political activity.

"For an active-duty service member, this is not a situation where it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission. You need to know the rules if you're going to get involved in politics in any way," Shelton said.

For more information, Soldiers should visit www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/134410p.pdf. Individual Soldiers who need legal advice about the scope of their political activity should call Legal Assistance at 785-239-3117.

Command and staff members with questions about political activity within their units or by their unit members should call their brigade legal team or Administrative Law at 785-239-2717.

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