A political do’s and don’ts primer for the primaries

Politics LogoNext week Tuesday (April 3), voters in Wisconsin will head to the polls to take part in the presidential primary election. The Dairy State has been politically charged since 2010, as demonstrated by large political demonstrations at the state Capitol, and partisan polarity will likely continue through the presidential elections this November.

As a Wisconsin National Guard member, you have certain limits on what you can do politically — that’s part of the price we pay as service members to maintain the military’s neutrality in government. The bottom line is that you cannot give the impression that any part of the military endorses a political candidate, party or movement.

But political activities are not always black and white. Here are some specific guidelines on what you can and cannot do:

You can:

  • Register, vote and express personal opinions on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces
  • Encourage others to vote, but not influence for whom others will vote
  • Join a partisan or nonpartisan political club and attend its meetings when not in uniform, so long as you are not a club sponsor or official
  • Serve as an election official, but not as a representative of a partisan political party; the duty cannot interfere with your military duties and cannot be performed in uniform
  • Sign a petition for a specific legislative action or to place a candidate’s name on an official election ballot, so long as you sign as a private citizen and signing does not obligate you to take part in partisan political activity
  • Write a “letter to the editor” expressing your personal view on public issues or political candidates, unless the letter is part of an organized letter-writing campaign or the letter solicits votes for or against a candidate or cause; if the letter identifies you as a service member (for example, including a reference to a present or upcoming deployment), make it clear that you are expressing your views and not those of the Department of Defense
  • Contribute money to political organizations, parties or committees, so long as you don’t exceed current contribution limits set by law
  • Display a political bumper sticker on your privately owned vehicle
  • Attend partisan and nonpartisan political events (fundraisers, meetings, rallies, debates and conventions) as a private citizen spectator
  • Fully participate in the Federal Voting Assistance Program

You cannot:

  • Take an active part (more than mere attendance as a spectator) in partisan political fundraising activities, rallies, conventions, campaign management or debates
  • Use official authority or influence to affect or interfere with an election, solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue, or persuade others to make political donations
  • Write or sign partisan political articles, letters or endorsements — which are then published — that solicit votes for or against a partisan political party, candidate or cause; see above for the rules on letters to the editor
  • Serve in any official capacity with, or be listed as a sponsor of, a partisan political club
  • Run for office in federal, state or local government, except under certain circumstances, or work to nominate or elect others as partisan candidates for civil office
  • Solicit or receive political contributions from service members or civilian federal employees for promoting a political objective, cause or campaign
  • Speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate or cause
  • Take part in any radio, TV or other program or group discussion advocating for or against a partisan political party, candidate or cause
  • 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
  • Do any sort of fundraising for any political cause or candidate in federal offices or facilities, including military reservations
  • March or ride in a partisan political parade
  • Display a large political sign, banner or poster (as distinguished from a bumper sticker) on a privately owned vehicle
  • Take part in any organized effort to provide voters with transportation to the polls if the effort is organized by or associated with a partisan political party, cause or candidate
  • Sell tickets for, or otherwise actively promote, partisan political dinners and similar fundraising events
  • Attend partisan political events as an official representative of the Armed Forces, except as a member of a joint Armed Forces color guard at the opening ceremonies of the national conventions of political parties recognized by the Federal Elections Committee
  • Use contemptuous words against officeholders

For more information on what a Wisconsin National Guard member can do politically, please consult The Adjutant General (TAG) Policy Memorandum 29 — Political Activities. If you still have questions, contact the Staff Judge Advocate’s Office at 608-242-3071 or DSN 724-3071.