As you know, DOD has a longstanding policy of encouraging military personnel to carry out the obligations of citizenship. However, as an active-duty member, you cannot engage in partisan political activities and you must avoid the inference that your political activities imply or appear to imply DOD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign or cause.
The following guidelines answer some of the more common questions you may have during this election cycle.
As an active duty member you may: Register, vote and express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces. You may also encourage others to vote as long as you do not use your official authority or influence to interfere with the outcome of any election.
You may join a partisan or nonpartisan political club and attend its meetings, rallies, debates, conventions, or activities as a spectator when not in uniform and when no inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval or endorsement can reasonably be drawn. As a member of that club, you cannot distribute partisan political literature or conduct political opinion surveys, nor can you march or ride in a partisan political parade.
Signing a petition for a specific legislative action or a petition to place a candidate’s name on an official election ballot is permitted, if the signing does not obligate you to engage in partisan political activity and is done as a private citizen.
Furthermore, you are allowed to express your personal views on public issues or political candidates in letters to the editor, if such action is not part of an organized letter-writing campaign or a solicitation of votes for or against a political party or partisan political cause or candidate. If the letter identifies you as being on active duty (or if you are otherwise reasonably identifiable as a member of the Armed Forces), the letter should clearly state that the views expressed are yours and not those of the Department of Defense.
Also, you may make monetary contributions to a political organization, party or committee favoring a particular candidate or slate of candidates, but you cannot engage in political fundraising activities.
Additionally, displaying a political bumper sticker on your vehicle is allowed, but placing a large political sign, banner, or poster on a private vehicle is not permitted, nor is it allowed (if visible to the public) at one’s residence on a military installation, even if that residence is part of a privatized housing development.
Finally, as a general rule, any activity that may be reasonably viewed as directly or indirectly associating the Department of Defense with a partisan political activity shall be avoided.
For a more complete list of what you can and cannot do when it comes to your political participation, please refer to DOD Directive 1344.10 (Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces).