RED OAK - The use of a photograph on a political mail-out in Red Oak has caused quite a stir.
Dawn Little, one of two candidates in a run-off election for Red Oak City Council Place 2, sent about 350 postcards through the mail last week with polling times and location on the front of the card, with a sentence stating, “Our troops support Dawn Little and so should you.” The back of the postcard was filled with a photograph showing a group of soldiers holding a sign that read, “Support Dawn Little Red Oak City Council Place II.”
However, some feel the photograph is a violation of the U.S. Department of Defense’s directive regarding military personnel’s involvement in political campaigns.
According to the directive, “U.S. Service members are encouraged to register, vote and express his or her personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces.”
The directive also states, “Members of the U.S. military are prohibited from wearing their uniform during or in connection with furthering political activities, private employment or commercial interests, when in inference of official sponsorship of the activity or interests may be drawn.
“While on active duty U.S. military members are prohibited from engaging in certain political activities,” the directive states. “Specifically, a member on active duty shall not use his or her official authority or influence for interfering with an election; affecting the course or outcome of an election; soliciting votes from a particular candidate or issue; or requiring or soliciting political contributions from others.”
Little, who is running against incumbent Ben Goodwyn, said the photo came from her brother, who is serving in the U.S. military. She said the photo was sent to her as a show of personal encouragement from her brother, and it was her decision to use it as a part of the campaign mail-out.
“My brother, via e-mail, sent it to me,” Little said. “He was doing it to show he was thinking about me. He didn’t intend for me to use that photo to show any endorsement of any kind.”
Little said one of the soldiers in the photo looks like her brother; however, she couldn’t confirm if it was and also said she didn’t know who the other soldiers were in the photo.
“He didn’t give me any information as to who they are. I don’t know who they are in the picture. I don’t know where it was taken,” Little said. “I felt like it was a perfectly clean, fair, legal thing to do. I felt like I was using my first amendment rights, freedom of speech, to put it on my postcard. I was surprised that I got a call about it all the way up from Washington, D.C.”
There has been a question of the authenticity of the photo — with inquiry as to whether the sign the soldiers are holding was in fact in the original photo or digitally added to the photo.
“I know he does a lot of photography type stuff and he plays with it, but I have no idea,” Little said, saying she does not know if her brother or someone else added the sign and wording to the picture by touching up the photo. “I don’t know if or how he created it.”
Little said upon receiving the photo, she didn’t immediately think to use it in her campaign. However, with the campaign supporters working to “rally the troops” or Little’s supporters, Little said she felt the picture would accurately convey her campaign theme.
“I don’t think he would intentionally take the picture to use for a campaign ad. I didn’t even know in what way I would use it either. I thought it went well with the ‘rally the troops’ thing and thought it was cute,” Little said. “I didn’t intend to deceive or harm anyone in thinking I was being endorsed by the U.S. Army, nor was I trying to offend or harm anyone in any way by using this in my campaign.”
Little said the postcards were mailed out to those who had supported the family’s past campaigns and endeavors.
“We sent them mainly to supporters — people who we already knew has supported us in the past in campaigns and (the postcard) has the times to vote. We thought it fit in with the ‘rally the troops’ vote theme,” Little said. “Had the military uniform code been in front of me, maybe if I’d known to look that up, maybe I would’ve taken the word ‘troops’ off my flyer. That’s probably the only thing I would’ve done differently.
“We just sent them to our supporters — people who had supported us in the past is strictly who we sent them to,” Little said, adding, “Just to get the word out about early voting.”
In a phone interview with the Daily Light, Paul Boyce with the U.S. Department of Defense Public Affairs Office confirmed that soldiers are not allowed to endorse candidates while in uniform.
“Traditionally, soldiers are discouraged from endorsing any candidate, if that’s what has happened here. You may not endorse a person while in uniform,” Boyce said. “If you’re saying this photograph was not intended for an endorsement, then this is a different situation. Soldiers send letters of thanks and photographs to people who have helped them all the time.”
Boyce said that to his knowledge there is no penalty for a candidate who uses a photo of soldiers in his or her campaign. He said that in the normal course of addressing a situation such as a soldier breaking a rule regarding the military’s uniform code or involvement in politics, the soldier’s supervisors would simply reiterate the rules.
“Traditionally, they just speak with the soldiers and just remind them of the policies,” Boyce said.
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