Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer announced over the weekend that he would not be running for U.S. Senate in 2014, as many hoped and suspected. That somewhat surprising announcement left prospective candidates scrambling to assess their newfound chances and provided an opportunity to turn the attention to the few who declared for the race prior to Schweitzer's decision. One of those early candidates is Republican Corey Stapleton.
A little over a month ago, Stapleton distributed a fundraising plea via snail mail. For whatever reason, the one-time gubernatorial hopeful plastered the envelopes his mailers came in with a photograph of himself in full Naval uniform. In doing so, Stapleton violated a Department of Defense directive that political candidates have been flouting for years.
Back in 2008, the DoD issued a rule that retired servicemen and women running for office may not use images of themselves in uniform on campaign literature. The language was pretty clear, and the reasoning rationalthat such images might insinuate endorsement of the candidate by the DoD or one of its branches.
Yet the story of candidates ignoring this rule has grown old fast. Republican congressional candidate Vaughn Ward of Idaho ran afoul of the DoD in 2010 over a web ad of himself in military garb. Idaho state Sen. Mitch Toryanski circulated a campaign mailer just last year that included a snapshot of him in full uniform. Ward and Toryanski offered no disclaimers with their photos. Neither did Stapleton.
By comparison, current Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh, a former brigadier general, used photos of himself in uniform during the 2012 campaign, though he was careful to include a disclaimer stating the images "do not imply endorsement by ... the Department of Defense."
We can certainly understand the motivation behind Stapleton's choice to use the photo. He's proud of his Naval record, and voters have a special affection for servicemen and women. (Email requests for comment to Stapleton's campaign went unreturned.) But this isn't an obscure rule, what with the glut of news stories, internet forums and online reminders from the DoD itself about its protocol. You'd think Stapleton's campaign couldn't possibly violate such a widely debated directive by accident. You'd also think candidates trained to follow military orders could manage to do so after retirement.