Tweeting, 'liking' in an election year

Mark Garney, the U.S. Air Force Academy's ethics advisor. (Courtesy photo)

Mark Garney, the U.S. Air Force Academy's ethics advisor. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- You're a civilian employee sitting in the break room and you've finished your lunch. You have a few minutes before returning to your desk, so you decide to check your Facebook page. You see a friend has linked to the fundraising site of your favorite presidential candidate and you press the like button because you want to support that candidate. Well, you'd better hide, because the Hatch Act police are on their way -- you've just violated federal law.

I'm just kidding about the Hatch Act Police. The Hatch Act is a federal law governing the political activities of federal civilian employees. Uniformed Airmen have a similar set of rules in Air Force Instruction 51-902. Since we're headed into the heart of the election year, we should all be aware of the general "do's" and "don'ts" of political activity, any activity directed at the success or failure of a political party or partisan political group or candidate.

Civilian employees and Airmen are encouraged to vote, to get others to vote and freely express their personal political views. We are allowed to join political clubs and attend meetings and fundraising events as long as we don't do so in uniform or on government time. We may even contribute to a political campaign or candidate. 

Civilians can make a political speech but service members cannot. We're all allowed to have a political bumper sticker on our car or wear a political button, but we can't wear that button with our uniform or at our job.

In the "don't" category, we can't participate in a fundraising event (attending is not considered participating), march or ride in a political parade, or put huge political banners on our car. If we live on base, we're not allowed to put political signs in our yard. 

One important "don't" has to do with soliciting donations to a political party, candidate or cause.  We can donate ourselves but can't encourage others to do so. That's why you got in trouble at lunch by liking a political fundraiser post on Facebook or retweeting such a post -- it's considered soliciting a donation.

Social media brings its own set of rules for federal employees. Even if we're allowed to do something considered a political activity, we can't do it at work or inside a federal building. This applies to government teleworkers. If you intend to look at Facebook or Twitter on your lunch break, go outside or sit in your car if you're going to post, like or retweet anything to do with political activity. Remember, government employees are not allowed to engage in political activity on our government computers or in any official capacity.

Please be part of the process of electing our national leaders. Educate yourself and others, debate, listen and learn, but make sure your political activity stays within the regulations. Watch out for the Hatch Act Police! 

For more information, visit www.osc.gov , refer to AFI 51-902 if you're a uniformed Airman, or call the Academy's ethics advisor at 333-3920.