Rules on Political Activites by Federal Employees

TO: All Department of State Employees (Other than Career Senior Executive Service, Presidential Appointees, and Political Appointees)
FROM: Office of the Legal Adviser
DATE: March 2016
RE: Rules on Political Activities

This memorandum outlines general guidance regarding political activities of career employees at the Department of State, including both Civil Service and Foreign Service employees. This guidance applies to Senior Foreign Service (SFS) employees, but does not apply to career Senior Executive Service (SES) employees, presidential appointees, or political appointees, who are covered by separate guidance.

Special Government Employees (SGEs) are subject to the restrictions in this guidance only during periods of duty.

Employees on detail may be subject to additional restrictions on political activity.

The restriction on engaging in any political activity while on duty is not applicable to employees taking appropriate leave, but such employees are subject to all of the other restrictions in this guidance.

This memorandum reflects provisions of the Hatch Act (the federal statute governing political activities by federal employees), government-wide regulations implementing the Hatch Act, and State Department policies. It is not exhaustive guidance and is intended as a general reference tool. Any questions should be submitted to the Ethics Attorney Mailbox (EthicsAttorneyMailbox@state.gov).

The Secretary has approved this guidance.

Political Activities Abroad

In addition to the restrictions enumerated below, 3 FAM 4123.3 prohibits U.S. citizen employees and their spouses and family members from engaging in partisan political activities abroad related to U.S. elections. This prohibition includes attending campaign rallies and other partisan political events, except in a nonpartisan official capacity.

You should consult L/Ethics if you believe that you would be acting in a nonpartisan official capacity.

Permissible Political Activities

  • Registering to vote and voting
  • Making financial contributions to political candidates, parties, or partisan groups within legal monetary limits
  • Being a member of a political party or group
  • Assisting in nonpartisan voter registration activities
  • Serving as election judge or clerk performing nonpartisan duties
  • Participating in nonpartisan activities of a civic, community, social, labor, or professional organization
  • Participating in nonpartisan electoral campaigns, i.e. campaigns where none of the candidates represents a political party, acts in concert with a political party, or receives party resources
  • Campaigning for or against nonpartisan issues, such as referendum questions, constitutional amendments, municipal ordinances, etc.
  • Providing informational briefings in your official capacity to candidates and political groups on a nonpartisan basis and in accordance with the Department’s interests
  • Signing a partisan or nonpartisan petition in your personal capacity, e.g. without reference to your official title or employer

The following additional activities are permissible only when in the United States:

  • Taking an active part in the political campaign of a partisan candidate or a candidate for political party office
  • Engaging in political activity in concert with a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group, including endorsement, solicitation of votes, dissemination of campaign literature or online campaign content, etc.
  • Holding a position in a partisan campaign, political party, or partisan political group, or seeking such a position, as long as the duties of the position do not require you to violate the restrictions on soliciting contributions, which are outlined later in this guidance
  • Serving as a delegate, alternate, or proxy to a party convention
  • Organizing or reorganizing a political party or partisan political group
  • Initiating or circulating a partisan nominating petition
  • Attending a partisan political convention, rally, fundraising function, election party, meet-the candidate event, or other political gathering as a spectator
  • Speaking for or against a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group at a partisan political convention, rally, election party, meet-the-candidate event, or other political gathering
  • Hosting or helping to organize a partisan political convention, rally, election party, meet-the-candidate event, or other political gathering
  • Displaying partisan pictures, signs, stickers, banners, badges, or buttons in your personal capacity in off-duty times and places
  • Placing a partisan bumper sticker on your privately owned vehicle and parking it in a U.S. Government parking facility. If the car is used for official business on a recurrent basis or is clearly identified as being used on official business, however, you must cover the sticker while the car is being used for official business.
  • Working at the polls on behalf of a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group by acting as a checker, challenger, or watcher, or in a similar partisan position
  • Driving voters in a private vehicle to polling places for a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group

Prohibited Political Activities

You may not:

  • Engage in any political activity while on duty, including:
    • While escorting others as part of your official duties
    • In official publications, postings, statements, or communications
  • Engage in any political activity, even while off duty:
    • In a government office or building, including while using a personal device
    • In any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by a U.S. Government official
    • Using your official title or official photograph
    • Using nonpublic information or other information that you would not possess but for your federal employment
    • Using government computers, laptops, phones, blackberries, and other resources
    • Wearing a uniform, badge, insignia, or other item identifying you as a U.S. Government employee
    • Using a government owned or leased vehicle
    • Using a privately-owned vehicle which is used in the discharge of official duties
  • Use your official authority to interfere with or affect the result of an election
  • Knowingly solicit or discourage the participation in any political activity of any employee or person regulated by or doing business with the Department (e.g., someone who has a matter pending before the Department)
  • Run or take steps leading to a run for partisan political office. If you reside in certain designated localities (primarily in the Washington, DC area), you may run as an independent candidate in partisan races for local electoral office, with certain fundraising restrictions.
  • Fundraising: You may not solicit, accept, or receive a partisan political contribution, regardless of whether the candidate is a spouse or family member, except in certain circumstances involving a Federal labor union. This prohibition includes:
    • Collecting or handling contributions
    • Signing, sending, or forwarding letters or emails soliciting contributions, including emails with links to political contribution webpages or “Contribute” buttons
    • Allowing your name or official title to be listed on a fundraising invitation, or as part of a host committee for a fundraiser; personally inviting others to a fundraiser; or otherwise promoting the fundraising activities of a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group
    • Personally hosting, performing duties traditionally associated with a host, or engaging in non-logistical organizing work for a fundraiser
    • Serving as a guest of honor at a fundraiser

Social Media

Employees covered by this guidance may engage in permissible political activities on social media pursuant to guidelines for “Less Restricted” employees. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC)-issued guidance on social media and political activities is available here.

The following activities constitute political activity, and are not permissible while on duty; on an official social media account, email account, or webpage; in a government building; on a government device; etc.:

  • Posting, liking, friending, sharing, emailing, tweeting, or retweeting pages or content supporting or opposing a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group
  • Using an alias to post, like, friend, share, email, tweet, or retweet partisan pages or content

The following activities are never permissible for employees covered by this guidance:

  • Referring to your official title or position while engaging in political activity on social media
  • Sharing partisan pages or content with subordinates or persons regulated by or doing business with the Department, unless the activity is directed at all of your Facebook friends or Twitter followers
  • Posting, liking, friending, sharing, tweeting, or retweeting fundraising pages or content, apart from accepting invitations to fundraising events on Facebook or Twitter

The following activities are always permissible:

  • Posting, liking, friending, sharing, emailing, tweeting, or retweeting nonpartisan pages or content
  • Continuing to friend, like, or follow the official social media pages of government officials after they become a candidate for reelection