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October 14, 2011

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Political activities defined for servicemembers, federal civilians

By Harry M. Hughes, Attorney-Adviser, Fort McCoy Installation Legal Office

The political process is one of the things that makes the United States such a great country. Many believe that it is every American’s duty to participate in that process. So, if the political process is so important and it is our duty to participate, then all political activities should be welcome in federal workplaces, right? Wrong! There are very definite rules restricting the political activities of the federal work force.

This article will explain some of the more common restrictions and tell members of the Fort McCoy work force how to receive guidance regarding questions about which activities are permissible and which are illegal.

Under the Hatch Act and implementing regulations, federal civilian employees are subject to certain rules that limit their participation in political activities.

Members of the armed forces are subject to different rules, published in Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 1344.10.
In addition, certain contract provisions make the standards of conduct in the Joint Ethics Regulation applicable to contracted employees as well.

So no matter what your status, your political activities on Fort McCoy are strictly regulated. The spirit and intent of these limitations is to prohibit any activity that may be viewed as directly or indirectly associating DoD with partisan politics.

Some of the more common restrictions on political activities prohibit federal civilian employees and servicemembers from:
- Running for partisan political offices;
- Using their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election;
- Soliciting or receiving political contributions;
- Engaging in political activity while on duty;
- Engaging in political activity while wearing an official uniform or displaying official insignias identifying the office or position of the DoD employee;
- Engaging in political activities while using government-owned or -leased vehicles or resources; or
- Wearing political buttons on duty.

Certain limited political activities are permissible. Civilian employees and servicemembers may:
+ Register to vote, vote, and express personal opinions;
+ Encourage others to exercise their voting rights;
+ Join political clubs, and attend political meetings and rallies as a spectator when not in uniform;
+ Make monetary contributions to political organizations;
+ Sign petitions for specific legislative action;
+ Write letters to the editor expressing personal views; and
+ Display bumper stickers on private vehicles, provided that the bumper stickers are consistent with good order and discipline on the installation.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding political activities in the Fort McCoy federal workforce, contact Harry Hughes at the Fort McCoy Installation Legal Office at 608-388-2165.

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