American Soldiers’ Views are Illegal?

Surprising Political Endorsements By U.S. Troops” – ABC News

Why not “Government Employees Cannot Participate in Partisan Political Activity”? Or how about government employees are not allowed to state who they support politically? How about government employees are NOT allowed to vote? How about UNION government employees are not allowed to vote?

Though the military is not supposed to engage in partisan political activity, these soldiers spoke out about their personal endorsements, and their opinions are likely to matter. In 2004, 73 percent of the U.S. military voted for a presidential candidate, and officials believe it may be even higher this time around.

Substitute the sub-class of government employees with members of the military and you see a First Amendment fight in the making. Somehow this reporter got the idea that military members are neutered politically. Um, no. Joining the military does NOT mean you support the ruling party, nor are you a Republican.

I’ve rewritten what follows about 20 times to be objective. The bigotry in the reporting above stands alone — though I doubt the author Martha Raddatz understands the grave insult she has made.

UPDATE (James Joyner): The piece is indeed bizarre. The thrust of the piece, as I read it, isn’t so much about the right of military people to vote but rather that she’s found a handful willing to go on record saying they are leaning toward Barack Obama because he wants to bring the troops home from Iraq.

Though the military is generally a more conservative group, soldiers like Sgt. Justin Sarbaum are just as eager for a pull-out as the Democratic candidates. Sarbaum said he wondered which presidential candidate would be able to better the U.S. relationship with rogue nations, such as Iran, so that soldiers are not sent off to another war.

As to the legal issues, uniformed military personnel operate under different rules than the civil service. The Fort Gordon, Georgia JAG has written a good synopsis:

The political activities of officers and enlisted members of the Active Army, the USAR, and the ARNG are governed by DODD 1344.10 and AR 600-20, paragraph 5-3. The Hatch Act Amendments, 5 U.S.C. §§ 7321 – 7325, and 5 C.F.R. Part 733, only apply to civilian Federal employees (including Federal technicians employed by the National Guard and USAR). The Hatch Act does not apply to military members.

The restrictions in AR 600-20 apply to soldiers on active duty, which is defined as full-time duty in the active military service of the United States without regard to duration or purpose, including active duty for training, annual training, attendance at military schools, and full-time National Guard duty. They do not apply to inactive duty for training, or to National Guard soldiers serving in state status.


Soldiers on Active Duty May:

1. Register, vote, and express their opinions on political candidates and issues, but not as representatives of the Armed Forces;

2. Attend partisan and nonpartisan political meetings or rallies as spectators, however, they may not attend: (a) in uniform, (b) during duty hours, (c) when violence is likely to result, or (d) when their activities constitute a breach of law and order;

3. Make monetary contributions to a political organization, but not to other members of the Armed Forces on active duty or employees of the Federal Government, and subject to the following:

a. 18 U.S.C. § 607 prohibits anyone “receiving any salary or compensation for services from money derived from the Treasury of the United States” to solicit a political contribution from any other such person;

b. 18 U.S.C. § 603 prohibits officers and employees of the Federal Government, and anyone “receiving salary or compensation for service from money derived from the Treasury of the United States” from making a political contribution to any other such person who is the “employer or employing authority” of the contributor;

1). This prohibits both contributions to the individual and to the individual’s campaign committee, but does not prohibit contributions to political parties;

2). In 1991, the Counsel to the President issued an opinion that this statute “may prohibit any Federal employee from contributing to the authorized campaign committee of the President;”

4. May encourage other military members to vote;

5. Serve as an election official, if such service (a) is not in uniform, (b) does not interfere with military duties, and (c) has the prior approval of the installation commander;

6. Sign a petition for legislative action or to place a candidate’s name on the ballot, but only in the soldier’s personal capacity;

7. Write a letter to the editor expressing personal views, and place bumper stickers on cars (but not large banners or posters).

Soldiers on Active Duty May Not:

1. Use their official authority or influence for interfering with an election, soliciting votes for a particular candidate or issue, or requiring or soliciting political contributions from others;

2. Participate in partisan political management, campaigns, or conventions;

3. Write and publish partisan political articles that solicit votes for or against a partisan political party or candidate, speak before partisan political gatherings, or participate in partisan political radio or television shows;

4. Serve in any capacity or be listed as a sponsor of a partisan political club;

5. Distribute partisan political literature or conduct a political opinion survey under the auspices of a partisan political group;

6. Use contemptuous words against the President, Vice President, Congress, the Secretaries of the military departments, Defense, or Transportation, and the Governors or legislatures of any state or territory where the soldier is on duty;

7. Engage in fund-raising activities for partisan political causes on military reservations or in Federal offices or facilities;

8. Attend partisan political events as official representatives of the Armed Forces.

See DoD Directive 1344.10, “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces,” dated February 19, 2008 for a more detailed outlining of the regulations.

These rules are longstanding. Military personnel do, in fact, give up a significant portion of their 1st Amendment freedoms as a condition of their service. The courts have upheld these restrictions, repeatedly, as necessary for good order and discipline.

But, yes, they can express their candidate preferences in their capacity as individuals, so long as they’re not claiming to represent the military. Unfortunately, Raddatz aptly demonstrates, this doesn’t stop reporters from distorting their views as a reflection of how soldiers in general think.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Congress, Iraq War, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Richard Gardner
About Richard Gardner
Richard Gardner is a “retired” Navy Submarine Officer with military policy, arms control, and budgeting experience. He contributed over 100 pieces to OTB between January 2004 and August 2008, covering special events. He has a BS in Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.


  1. Bithead says:

    Um, no. Joining the military does NOT mean you support the ruling party, nor are you a Republican.

    But it does tend to mean that one party will try to negate your vote on some ground or another, as they have for the last few elections.

    Guess which party?

  2. dutchmarbel says:

    Doesn’t she mean that they are not supposed to speak *for* the militairy, so all their statements are personal and do not represent the viewpoint of the militairy? Comparable with not being allowed to visit partisan political activities in uniform, but soldiers *can* visit them in civilian cloths?

  3. DC Loser says:

    Personally I think this is a tempest in a teapot. I didn’t see Raddatz saying military weren’t supposed to voice their personal political opinions. I think the article’s thrust was that the military isn’t a monolithic organization or that it’s made up of only Republicans. The soldiers quoted weren’t campaigning for any candidate, but were only responding to a question they were asked about their own personal preferences.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m glad you commented on the piece, Richard and James. I caught it when it was broadcast as part of the evening news yesterday evening and was concerned that it would invite the sort of comment that it, apparently, has been receiving.

    When I heard it, it struck me as advocacy, not a particularly balanced piece of reporting.

  5. Wayne says:

    Typical MSM BS. They cherry pick a couple of soldiers with opinions they wanted to hear. Seen it many times. Whether it’s finding someone who thinks Basic Training is tough or someone who has a bad case of homesickness during deployment, they can find them and will disregard the rest. If they were honest, they would have taken a poll and reported the results. The majority of the military will vote for McCain.

    As for the legality, the only ones that ever try to silence the troops in such matters are the Dems.