Avvo Rating Top Attorney
Avvo Rating badge
Federal Bar Association
Virginia State Bar
Department of the Army

UCMJ and Politics

Army Times reports: A Colorado lawmaker wants the Defense Department to remind active-duty and reserve service members about the rules limiting participation in partisan political events. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a member of the House Armed Services Committee who served in the Army and Marine Corps, said in a Thursday letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that he thinks existing regulations are fine but that troops may need a reminder.

It is 2012, it is a presidential election year. That means there are potential problems for military personnel (active, Guard, Reserve, or retired) who want to be involved in the political process beyond military voting. If you violate one or more of the rules, regulations, or statutes governing political participation and acts you can find yourself being in a disciplinary situation. Here are links to an example of how a military member can get in trouble over politics.

Here's a reminder, from Stars & Stripes, that politicking in uniform is not allowed.

Here is a piece by Bryant Jordan on Military.com with more on the recent "politicking" of a uniformed Reserve Soldier.

[UPDATE:] The Soldier referenced in the articles above was given a letter of reprimand with it filed in his official record in March 2012. The Army determined that Jesse D. Thorsen violated policies that bar soldiers from participating in political events in their official capacities or while in uniform. Experts say a reprimand may become a problem if Thorsen seeks a promotion or could be used to justify more serious punishment if he gets in trouble again.

[UPDATE] A Marine who appears to have started a Armed Forces Tea Party is also fallen afoul of these rules and is being processed for administrative discharge. In his case it appears he was warned and given opportunities to change, but declined to do so.

Nothing in the rules prohibits or restricts a military member registering to vote or voting, or donating to politicians or political parties; that is the personal choice of each member. What the rules do restrict or limit is how an individual may advocate on behalf of a political party, candidate, or elected official. The greatest restriction is that Active-duty service-members are strictly prohibited from military voting including campaigning for political office or actively taking part in a political campaign - even behind the scenes. This is generally known as partisan political activity: an "activity supporting or relating to candidates representing, or issues specifically identified with, national or State political parties and associated or ancillary organizations."

Overseas members of the military and their families are guaranteed the right to vote by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. However, the difficulties of obtaining absentee ballots in remote and dangerous areas of the world and returning them in time have led to shockingly high rates of disenfranchisement. The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act) of 2009 required changes by 2010 intended to provide greater military voting opportunities.

Where can I Find the Military Voting Rules and How do They Apply to Me

DoD Directive 1344.10, Subj: Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces.

Air Force Instruction 51-902., Subj: Political Activities by Members of the US Air Force.

Army AR 600-200., Subj: Army Command Policy, Para. 5-3, Political Activity, and Appendix B.

Coast Guard

Navy. SECNAVINST 5720.44, Subj: Public Affairs Policy and Navy Regulations. Here's more from the Naval Inspector General who would investigate complaints for the Department of the Navy.

Marine Corps Order 5370.7B., Subj: Political Activities.

Some General Principles
  • Rallies, Town Halls, and Meetings. You CAN attend a political rally or event as a spectator. You CANNOT wear your uniform to the rally. You CANNOT speak in front of the rally.
  • Letters-to-the-Editor. You CAN write a letter to the editor of a paper expressing your personal view calling for the repeal or passing of legislation and sign it as a service member.
  • Talking to or writing to your Member of Congress. You CAN express your personal opinion to Congress about legislation or personal issues. You CANNOT tell your Congressperson that you are speaking on behalf of your unit or the military when you tell him/her that DADT should be repealed. The right to communicate with Congress is found in Article 138, UCMJ, regarding complaints of wrongs. And you are protected from retaliation by statute, 10 U. S. Code 1034.
  • Talking on the radio/TV or at a program/group discussion. You CAN express your personal opinion when interviewed by the press, unless in uniform. You CANNOT tell the press that you represent the armed forces.
  • Petition. You CAN sign a petition. You CANNOT claim to represent the military when signing a petition.
  • Bumper Sticker. You CAN put a political oriented bumper sticker on your personal car. You CANNOT put bumper stickers on military vehicles.
  • Voting. You CAN vote for candidates who support your views. You can promote and encourage other military members to exercise their military voting rights, so long as such promotion does not constitute an attempt to influence or interfere with the outcome of an election; but you cannot encourage them to vote for a particular candidate or party. You CANNOT campaign for a particular candidate representing yourself as a military member. This includes participating fully in the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
  • Contributions. You CAN make monetary - not time - contributions to a political organization, party, or committee favoring a particular candidate or slate of candidates, subject to the limitations of law..
  • Fundraisers. You CAN attend a political dinner or similar fundraiser, but NOT in uniform. You CANNOT sell tickets for, or otherwise actively promote, the dinner or similar fundraising events.
  • Voting Day. You CANNOT conduct a political opinion survey under the auspices of a partisan political club or group or distribute partisan political literature. You CANNOT perform clerical or other duties for a partisan political committee or candidate during a campaign, on an election day, or after an election day during the process of closing out a campaign.
There are Various Criminal Statutes That Also Affect What, When, Where, and How

2 U.S.C. § 441a. Federal election campaigns: limitation on contributions and expenditures.

10 U.S.C. § 973: duties of officers on active duty; performance of civil functions restricted.

18 U.S.C. Chapter 29, Elections and Political Activities; 18 U.S.C. § 1913.

DoD 5500.7-R, Joint Ethics Regulation, Chapters 2, 3, 5 & 6.

Article 88, UCMJ.

Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Article 92, UCMJ. Violations of the various regulations and laws will likely be prosecuted under this article as an orders violation.

Client Reviews
Many years after retiring from the USN, I suddenly found myself in a very unwelcome legal matter with the Navy. It was a total shock and I was very concerned as to the impact this would have on me and my family. Philip was so helpful, truly a calming force, and his legal help was invaluable to me, I am so thankful that I availed myself of his services! Rob
Phil Cave has helped me through NJP and restoration of my security clearance. He even came to visit me in Spain. I never thought I would work again and he certainly through with advise and guidance that we're exactly spot on. He is my hero and thanks to him I gave my life back... Bryan
Mr. Cave saved my military retirement! His promise to me from day one was that he would fight as hard as he could he right the wring that had been done to me. And he did! I am so very thankful and grateful to him. He genuinely cared about me and made my case his priority. He used all his experience and knowledge to put forth a good defense. I am very pleased with him and will recommend him to anyone in need of an attorney. Crystal