By Kevin Dent
WSMR JAG Office
The Hatch Act is a Federal law that restricts some political activities of civilian, United States government employees. With the exception of Senior Executive Service employees and certain intelligence community personnel, who are subject to more restrictions, most civilian employees may engage in partisan political activity like advocating for or against a political party or candidate running for office as a member of a political party while in their personal capacities. However, federal employees are absolutely prohibited from soliciting or receiving political contributions whether on duty or off duty.
The consequences of violating these rules can be severe.
Some common things that Federal employees are prohibited from doing include; wearing political campaign buttons while in the workplace, displaying political banners or signs in the office, using official e-mail or telephones to send campaign messages and posting political messages to a Facebook account or engaging in political tweeting while in a federal building, whether on or off-duty. Forwarding an email, or posting, “retweeting,” or “liking” a message soliciting a partisan-campaign contribution, even from a personal email or social media account is also prohibited. Finally, Department of
Defense employees are prohibited from officially communicating with presidential campaigns without authorization from the DoD Transition Office.
Most federal employees are permitted to attend or organize political rallies and meetings. Making phone calls on behalf of a candidate that do not solicit donations is permitted as well as serving as a delegate to a party convention and expressing personal views on public issues or political candidates via social media platforms, blogs and newspapers. Federal employees are encouraged to vote in elections and participate as good, engaged citizens in their communities.
Active-duty military personnel are not subject to the Hatch Act, but are required to follow the rules contained in the DoD Directive 1344.10. These personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD or military service sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.
Members on active duty may not campaign for a partisan candidate, engage in partisan fundraising activities, serve as an officer of a partisan club, or speak before a partisan gathering.
Active-duty members may, however, express their personal opinions on political candidates and issues, make monetary contributions to a political campaign or organization and attend political events as a spectator when not in uniform.
The consequences of violating these rules can be severe. Civilian personnel who violate the Hatch Act may face disciplinary action, up to removal from the federal service. Some violations of the Hatch Act may also constitute crimes under the Federal Law, punishable by fines and imprisonment. Military personnel who violate political activity rules may face adverse administrative action or punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
For more information on the Hatch Act or Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, WSMR personnel may contact the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at (575) 678-1263. Guidance on the Hatch Act can also be found on the U.S. Office of Special Counsel website at www.osc.gov.