US military chews out a Trump ally in Congress accused of ‘flagrantly’ breaking rules against using his uniform for campaign cash

Doug Collins
House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia during a House Rules Committee hearing on the impeachment against President Donald Trump, December 17, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
  • The US military has reached out to Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, a current Air Force Reserves officer, to ensure that he was aware of its regulations on campaigning using images of himself wearing a uniform, an Air Force spokesperson told Insider on Thursday.
  • "Members may include photographs of themselves in military uniform in campaign materials when accompanied by a disclaimer," the Air Force spokesman said in a statement. "[Air Force Reserve Command] has reached out, and Congressman Collins and his campaign team are aware of the disclaimer requirements."
  • Some of the advertisements were still viewable.
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The US military has reached out to Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, a current Air Force Reserves service member, so that he was aware of its regulations on campaigning using images of himself wearing the uniform, an Air Force spokesperson told Insider.

"Members may include photographs of themselves in military uniform in campaign materials when accompanied by a disclaimer," the Air Force spokesperson said in a statement. "[Air Force Reserve Command] has reached out, and Congressman Collins and his campaign team are aware of the disclaimer requirements."

Newsweek, quoting a Defense Department spokesperson, reported on Wednesday that "feedback will be provided to Congressman Collins and his campaign team about the use of a disclaimer."

At least a dozen images and videos of Collins wearing different Air Force uniforms have appeared on his Senate campaign's social media accounts in recent weeks. The Republican serves as lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves, and previously deployed to Iraq as a chaplain.

Doug Collins
A campaign advertisement asking for donations, featuring then-US Air Force captain Doug Collins.

Collins, in addition to over a dozen candidates, is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a Georgia special election. Polling site FiveThirtyEight rated the special election a toss-up between the two lawmakers and pastor and Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock.

The controversy centered around a few advertisement that featured Collins in uniform, which neglected to include a disclaimer stating the Defense Department was not endorsing him. Some of his campaign ads that followed the regulations mentioned in small letters that "use of military rank, job titles or photographs does not imply endorsement by the Department of the Air Force or the Department of Defense."

The disclaimers are intended to shield the Defense Department and its troops from partisan politics. Regulations deem that for non-active duty personnel, a candidate's advertisement "must clearly indicate their retired or reserve status" and include a "prominent and clearly displayed disclaimer" stating that the Defense Department does not necessarily endorse them.

Attorney Michael Weinstein, founder of the non-profit group Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), railed against the advertisements and described them as a "flagrant" violation of the military ethics. Weinstein also noted that according to the military's regulations on campaigning, Collins would still be in violation even with a large disclaimer since it prohibits candidates "in uniform as the primary graphic representation."

"Collins is engaging in a pervasive and pernicious, pattern and practice, of prostituting himself and violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the regulations to further his political career," Weinstein told Insider on Thursday. "He is the primary character in these ads, completely and totally. There is nothing biographical. No disclaimer would even work if they were bigger than the pictures of him."

"It makes the Air Force and Defense Department look legibly complicit with what Collins is doing here," Weinstein added. "It makes it look like they're trying to get him elected."

Weinstein's organization, which represents clients in the military who allege they have been discriminated against on the basis of religion, has since written a letter addressed to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, asking him to take action against Collins. The Defense Department did not respond to Insider's request for comment on whether it planned to pursue charges.

Dan McLagan, Collins' campaign spokesman, previously told Insider that the scrutiny over the advertisements was spurred by the MRFF's "long-standing grudge" against the congressman.

"For years, Doug has been fighting Mikey Weinstein's heinous attacks on our service members' constitutional — and God-given — right to freedom of religion," McLagan told Insider. "Mikey is hell bent on eradicating religion from the military, and he hates Doug because he's fighting for every military member's right to worship."

McLagan also admitted there were a few advertisements that did not "display a properly formatted disclaimer because of a vendor error," and that those ads have been removed. However, some of the advertisements were still viewable as of Thursday.

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