In the political arena, there are many regulations and policies that must be followed in order to ensure a fair and uncorrupted election process. Those running for office are not the only ones held to an ethical standard. Their supporters are as well.
The Hatch Act applies certain restrictions on all civilian employees of the federal government and Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 applies similar restrictions on active-duty military personnel.
These restrictions limit individuals from interfering in the political process through misuse and abuse of government power and property.
“There has been a historical concern with the abuse of the electoral process,” said James O’Donnell, attorney advisor, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific. “The Hatch Act was enacted to prohibit federal employees from attempting to influence partisan elections.”
The Hatch Act does not apply directly to uniform personnel, but DoDD 1344.10 applies the same restrictions to active-duty servicemembers.
“While you are encouraged to participate in the political process, please do so on your personal time and in your personal capacity,” said Keith L. Williams associate general counsel and ethics counselor, Office of the Inspector General, Department of Defense, in a memorandum to armed forces senior leaders.
In past presidential elections, there were several violations of the Hatch Act.
In 2004, an Environmental Protection Agency employee, who supported Sen. John Kerry, while on duty, sent 31 emails to his co-workers urging them to support Senator Kerry's campaign. At the same time, a Social Security Office employee favored President George W. Bush, and while on duty, sent a similar email to 27 of his co-workers and other individuals. Both were found to have violated the Hatch Act because sending emails in support of any candidate while on duty is considered a prohibited political activity. They were both fired.
Other prohibited activities include:Use of official authority or influence for interfering with an election; affecting the course or outcome of an election soliciting votes for a particular candidate or issue; or requiring or soliciting political contributions from others.
Be a candidate for, hold, or exercise the functions of civil office while serving on active duty for a period of more than 270 days.
Participate in partisan political management, campaigns, or conventions.
Making campaign contributions to another member of the Armed Forces or an employee of the Federal Government.
These restrictions do not violate individual rights. According to O’Donnell, an individual can still register, vote and express his or her personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the armed forces.
“If I want to attend a republican rally in downtown Honolulu, I can do that,” he added. “If I wanted to go to the rally in my uniform – that would be a violation.”
Violations of the Hatch Act include 30 days suspension without pay up to termination for civilian personnel.
Servicemembers who violate DoDD 1344.10 can be court martialed.
“Once you tie in your service with support for a political agenda, you are violating these restrictions,” O’Donnell added. “You can support whoever you want in a personal capacity, but the line is such that you cannot bring politics into the office.”
For more information on the Hatch Act and DoDD 1344.10 refer to the link on the Net atwww.mfp.usmc.mil/teamapp/sja.