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Permissible political activities by military members

Posted 9/12/2008   Updated 9/12/2008 Email story   Print story


341st Missile Wing Legal Office

9/12/2008 - MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- During the 2008 campaign season, it is important for Airmen to know that political activities by military members are restricted, and most types of direct participation in partisan politics are forbidden. Airmen are entitled to their political opinions, but the military is politically neutral and must appear neutral to the public. Restrictions on Airmen participation in partisan politics ensure that the military establishment remains politically neutral, especially during the election process. There are also important restrictions on political expression by officers.

First, members should know that they are strongly encouraged to register to vote and vote in political elections. Any member seeking information on voting should contact his or her unit voting assistance officer. Contact information for unit voting assistance officers can be found at the 341st Missile Wing Wweb site on the Air Force portal at the "Voting Assistance" link. Malmstrom Airmen can also contact Maj. Joseph Amato, the installation voting assistance officer, at 731-extension 7068, for voting information. Members also are permitted to express their personal opinion on political candidates and issues, so long as they are not acting as a representative of the Air Force. Military members, however, may not use contemptuous words against people who hold certain high political positions. In fact, military officers may be prosecuted under Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for use of contemptuous words against the holders of certain political positions including the President, Vice President, Congress, and the Governor of the state in which they are on duty.

Overall, members must ensure they do not give the appearance of representing the Air Force or military as a whole when participating in political activities. . For instance, an Airman cannot attend a political meeting or rally while in uniform or as an official representative of the military. Similarly, any letter written to the editor of a newspaper must only express the member's personal view on public issues -- there can be no implication that those views are the views of the Air Force or the military. Members should also refrain from the use of government e-mail for partisan political purposes.

Wearing a political button while not in uniform or displaying a political sticker on a privately owned vehicle is permitted. Display of large political signs, banners, or posters on the top or side of a privately owned vehicle, however, is impermissible.

Other activities are forbidden, regardless of whether the member appears in or out of uniform. For instance, making campaign contributions to a specific political candidate is forbidden, although members are permitted to contribute to a political organization or political committee that favors a particular candidate or group of candidates. Members also are not permitted to join a political parade, solicit or receive campaign contributions from other military members, appear on radio or television as an advocate of a political candidate or party, or work for a political campaign.

So what are permissible activities by Air Force members? The list below details some of the things that Air Force members may do if they wish to participate in the political process:

· Attend political meetings or rallies as a spectator when not in uniform.
· Join a political club and attend its meetings when not in uniform.
· Sign a petition for specific legislative action or a petition to place a candidate's name on an official election ballot, if the signing does not obligate the member to engage in partisan political activity and is done as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Armed Forces.
· Write a personal letter, not for publication, expressing preference for a specific political candidate or cause, if the action is not part of an organized letter-writing campaign on behalf of a partisan political cause or candidate.

Acceptable and unacceptable political participation by airmen is governed by AFI 51-902, Political Activities by Member of the US Air Force, and AFI 51-903, Dissident and Protest Activities. Any questions about permissible political activities should be directed to Malmstrom AFB Legal Office, at extension 731- 2878.

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