You Can (And Should) Be Politically Active

Military members can be politically active, they just have to follow certain rules.

Every year, Congress debates the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and every year, military members have strong opinions about the various provisions of the year’s Act.  However, many military service member’s don’t express their opinions because of confusion about the rules about political activity for military service members.

That’s a shame, because our government is designed for people to express their opinions.

It’s true that there are restrictions on the political activities of military members, but those rules are primarily designed to make it clear that military members are acting as private individuals and not representatives of a command, specific service, or the Department of Defense.  Unfortunately, some parts of the rules are confusing, and there is a lot of mis-information out there.  In addition, there are many levels of rules, including federal law, Department of Defense directives, and service-specific regulations.

What’s Prohibited

The list of what is prohibited is long, and I’m going to summarize it:

  • Participation in partisan fundraising, rallies, conventions, debates, or campaign management.  Attending these events is OK, but don’t wear your uniform.
  • Soliciting votes or contributions for a candidate or political issue.
  • Publishing political articles, letters or endorsements.  (There is an exception for letters to the editor)
  • Serving in an official capacity of a political club, or sponsoring a political club.
  • Speaking before a partisan political gathering.
  • Participating in any media or other public discussion as a representative for or against a political party, candidate, or cause.
  • Conducting a political opinion survey or distribute political literature.
  • Volunteer for a political committee or campaign.
  • Solicit or fundraise on federal property.
  • March or ride in a political parade.
  • Display a large political sign, banner or poster on a private vehicle.  (Standard size bumper stickers are OK.)
  • Display a political sign, poster, banner or similar at a residence on a military installation, even if it is a privatized community.
  • Participate in voter transportation activities.
  • Promote political dinners or fundraising events.
  • Attend political events as a representative of the Armed Forces, except when acting as a color guard as authorized.
  • Make contributions to or receive contributions from any other active duty service member.
  • Any other activities that are “contrary to the spirit and intent of this Directive.”

Many more specifics are available in the full Department of Defense directive.

What’s OK

There’s also a long list of behaviors that authorized, including

  • Registering to vote and voting.
  • Expressing a personal opinion on political candidates and issues.
  • Encouraging others to vote.
  • Join a political club and attend meetings when not in uniform.
  • “Serve as an election official, if such service is not as a representative of a partisan political party, does not interfere with the performance of military duties, is performed when not in uniform, and the Secretary concerned has given prior approval.:
  • Sign a petition for a specific legislative action, or to place a candidate’s name on the ballot.
  • Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper, as long as it is not part of an organized letter writing campaign or a solicitation of votes.  If the letter can reasonably identify the author as an active duty service member, it must clearly state that “the views expressed are those of the individual only and not those of the Department of Defense” (or Department of Homeland Security for members of the Coast Guard)
  • Make monetary contributions to a political organization, party, or committee.
  • Display a political bumper sticker on the member’s private vehicle.
  • Attend political fundraising activities, 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.”
  • Participate fully in the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

Why This Is Financial?

So, why am I writing about this at The Paycheck Chronicles?  Well, because the National Defense Authorization Act has a big impact on military family budgets.  If you are so inclined, you should become familiar with the provisions being considered, and express your opinions.  The easiest way to do this is to contact your Representatives and Senators.  Use the links and your voting address to find out who represents you, and let them know what you like and don’t like about the various versions of the NDAA.

Once upon a time, in a previous life, I worked for a state senator.  She actively listened to the comments that she received from her constituents.  Sometimes it influenced her thoughts, and sometimes it helped to her to know that she needed to learn more about a particular issue.

Don’t refrain from being politically active just because you are on active duty.  The rules aren’t too hard, and it’s pretty easy to stay within the rules.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Ben Wallace

    I disagree with many of the prohibitions on political activities for military members. The military is large and could present itself as a huge force in our Country’s political process. Why do that? It’s clear that our representatives in Congress, by and large, hold the military as political hostages when it comes to pay, retirement, housing and other benefits. That has to stop. I would encourage ALL military members to become politically active. I would encourage them to push to the limits of those artificial prohibitions on political activities. The military needs to flex its political muscle. As a group, we can be strong. We can effect change.

    Just think of the political impact of a march on Washington next year shortly before the national elections? It could be something like the “bonus march” of the 30’s. When the politicians look out on the mall and see 50,000 military members and are then asked to explain their anti-military votes….perhaps that will provide them with a moment of clarity?

  • Doubtom

    The list of prohibitions reads like it was formed by a legal parasite, especially the inclusion of that “catch-all paragraph at the end, which essentially says, — “and anything else we can’t think of at the moment”. The day the military accepted lawyers into the fold, is the day the military went to hell.

  • Charles Orr

    The purpose of political prohibitions should be to prevent the appearance of an official DoD endorsement – much like the Garrison Commander of Redstone Arsenal did recently. Everything else should be free speech. For what do we protect and defend?

  • Bryan

    Ben – an important principle of military-civilian relations in this country is the civilian control of the military. Having 50,000 military members marching on Congress to demand something (it really doesn’t matter what it is) would impinge upon that. We do NOT need to “flex our political muscle” — that’s what happens in 3rd world countries and taken to its logical conclusion would equal a coup.