MRFF Demand Leads to DoD Action Against Rep. Doug Collins’ (GA-9) Illegal Senate Campaign Activities

October 28, 2020

MRFF Senior Research Director Chris Rodda posted an article to DailyKos on October 20, 2020 detailing numerous and aggressively blatant violations by Representative Doug Collins’ (GA-9) of Department of Defense DoD Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces.  Rep. Collins is currently running in Georgia’s special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated in 2019 by Johnny Isakson.

Chris Rodda expertly details the nature of Rep. Collins’ unabashed illicit campaign activity:

DoD Directive 1344.10, “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces,” contains a detailed section on what is and what is not allowed in campaign materials for active, reserve, or retired members of the military running for office. The only use of photos of the candidate in uniform that is allowed are photos as part of the candidates biographical information, when accompanied by other non-military photos, and when also accompanied by a disclaimer stating that the appearance of the photo in uniform doesn’t imply a DoD endorsement. On his Senate campaign website, Collins includes a biographical page that contains two photos of him in uniform, which would be fine except that he does not include the required disclaimer.

But this lack of a disclaimer on his website is a minor infraction compared to what he does in his campaign ads. DoD Directive 1344.10 is also very specific about what is not allowed in campaign materials (emphasis added):

4.3.2.1. Use or allow the use of photographs, drawings, and other similar media formats of themselves in uniform as the primary graphic representation in any campaign media, such as a billboard, brochure, flyer, Web site, or television commercial. For the purposes of this policy, “photographs” include video images, drawings, and all other similar formats of representational media.

4.3.2.2. Depict or allow the depiction of themselves in uniform in a manner that does not accurately reflect their actual performance of duty. For the purpose of this policy, “photographs” include video images, drawings, and all other similar formats of representational media.

Ad after ad on Collins’s Senate campaign Facebook page and Twitter feed contains a photo of Collins in uniform as “the primary graphic representation” or that “does not accurately reflect [his] actual performance of duty.” Using the uniform as Collins does to bolster his political image as someone who will “handle the mob” or who “fought Stacey Abrams” is a flagrant and shameless violation of regulations, as is using the uniform to solicit campaign donations.

 Chris Rodda also noted that that Rep. Collins led the group of fundamentalist Christian GOP Congress members that secured appeasement from Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Matthew P. Donovan who rewrote one of the DoD’s core regulations on religion, DoD Instruction 1300.17, to allow just about any form of previously prohibited religious behavior and proselytizing, with no regard for the right of service members to be free from unwanted religion.

On October 20, 2020, MRFF President/Founder Mikey Weinstein sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper demanding that USAF Reserve Chaplain (Lt. Col.)/U.S. Congressman Doug Collins be aggressively charged under the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) for frequent and blatant violations of Department of Defense DoD Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces:

On behalf of our many clients who reported this reprehensible and illicit behavior by Collins to MRFF, MRFF demands that you issue immediate orders to USAF Reserve Chaplain (Lt. Col.)/U.S. Congressman Doug Collins to timely cease and desist from any further use of photographs of himself in uniform to enhance his current election bid to become a U.S. Senator in Georgia.  The overt and flagrant violations of these DoD regulations also constitute a severe violation of UCMJ Article 92 (“Failure To Obey Order or Regulation,” 10 United States Code, Section 892) as well as potentially other UCMJ Articles.

On Monday, October 26, 2020, David Choi of Business Insider reported:

Dan McLagan, Collins’ campaign spokesman, told Insider that the scrutiny over the advertisements was a machination of the MRFF’s “long-standing grudge” against the congressman and “religious liberty.” McLagan added that 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 Monday.

Weinstein said he was not surprised by Collins’ rebuttal.  “The term that we would use is ‘bulls—,'” Weinstein added. “What I would say to his campaign is to basically, ‘Shut the “eff” up and follow the regulations.'”

On Wednesday, October 28, 2020, Ramsey Touchberry and Naveed Jamali reported for Newsweek that:

Republican Representative Doug Collins of Georgia will be counseled by the Department of Defense for repeatedly violating a policy that prohibits candidates from using photos of themselves in uniform for campaign ads without a proper disclaimer, the department told Newsweek.  Collins, who is challenging incumbent GOP Senator Kelly Loeffler, violated DoD policy at least two dozen times last week alone by using images of himself donning his Air Force uniform in campaign ads posted to social media, Newsweek reported.  DoD Directive 1344.10 states that any images in uniform must be accompanied with a “prominent and clearly displayed disclaimer” that states such a photo does not imply an endorsement from any military branch. Nearly all of Collins’ ads either excluded such a statement or had a disclaimer that was too small to read. Kathryn Smith, a lawyer and former Air Force officer, told Newsweek that Collins will likely be advised by his commanding officer of the policy he is breaching and what his obligations are, and he will have to sign an official letter acknowledging the interaction.

Collins campaign spokesman Dan McLagan falsely claimed to Business Insider on Monday that the ads in question had been removed, and he said the problem stemmed from a “vendor error.” McLagan also said that the scrutiny of Collins’ ads was partially to blame on a “long-standing grudge” that the advocacy group Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has against the Republican congressman and his religious views.

The organization’s founder and president, Mikey Weinstein, wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week after he said some of Esper’s own staff came to him about Collins’ repeated violations. Weinstein called for criminal charges to be imposed.

“This is still the other side of the universe of what we wanted,” Weinstein said of DoD’s plans to counsel Collins. “It’s pandering to Trump.”

The Collins campaign did not respond to several requests for comment. The Air Force also did not respond.

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