Republican Rep. Doug Collins' Senate campaign ads have attracted scrutiny for featuring images of himself wearing the US Air Force uniform — particularly in the absence of any disclaimers.
At least a dozen images and videos of Collins wearing different variations of the Air Force uniform have appeared on his campaign's social media accounts in recent weeks.
"This is a Tiger Woods two-inch putt — it's so obvious," Michael Weinstein, a former US Air Force judge advocate general and a former member of the White House counsel, told Insider.
Republican Rep. Doug Collins' campaign ads have attracted scrutiny for prominently using images of himself wearing the US Air Force uniform — particularly in the absence of any disclaimers — in an apparent violation of the Defense Department's regulations.
At least a dozen images and videos of Collins wearing different Air Force uniforms have appeared on his Senate campaign's social media accounts. The Georgia-based Republican serves as lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves, and previously deployed to Iraq as a chaplain.
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While campaign advertisements featuring a candidate's military service are not unusual, several of Collins' images appeared to violate the Defense Department's regulations intended to protect the military's apolitical status. Military regulations for non-active duty personnel state that 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.
Several of Collins' advertisements failed to meet the criteria by not including the disclaimers. In addition to not meeting the requirements, the Defense Department also bans candidates from using photographs or other media to portray themselves in military uniform "as the primary graphic representation in any campaign media."
The controversial campaign images, some of which attacked Collins' political opponents, prominently featured Collins wearing the uniform.
The Department of Defense and the Air Force Reserves did not respond to Insider's requests for comment.
Collins is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a Georgia special election that polling site FiveThirtyEight rates a toss-up.
Attorney Michael Weinstein, founder of the non-profit group Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), described the advertisements as a "shameful" violation of the military's regulations.
"You can do it if you're doing it biographically, but you must include a prominent disclaimer — that's not even there," Weinstein told Insider, referring to the campaign advertisements. "He's like the sole star of these ads. That's not biographical. That's political. He's using it for a partisan, political agenda. It's pathetic. It's putrescent."
Weinstein, who is a former US Air Force judge advocate general and a member of the White House counsel during President Ronald Reagan's administration, also noted that Collins should have known better as a long-time military officer.
"This is a Tiger Woods two-inch putt — it's so obvious," Weinstein added. "What's particularly appalling is that we court-martial young soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines for stuff that is 1% as bad."
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 instruct Collins to stop the campaign advertisements and launch an investigation.
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."
Collins and other Republican lawmakers complained to the Defense Department earlier this year that "anti-religion activists" and "nefarious organizations" were attempting to "ruin the careers of the hardworking men and women who serve as military chaplains."
"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 said. "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 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.
"Our rights in America are not God-given. They are given by our Constitution, which doesn't mention anybody's God at at time," Weinstein told Insider, adding that he was Jewish.
"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.'"
Collins served in the House for seven years and has raised his political profile during President Donald Trump's administration, most notably as the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee.
Political advertisements featuring candidates wearing military and law enforcement uniforms have raised flags during recent election cycles. In 2019, Floyd McLendon, a retired US Navy SEAL running for a House seat in Texas, was spotted at his campaign kickoff wearing the Navy's dress white uniform. Both the Navy and the Marine Corps prohibit wearing the uniform at political events, even for retirees and reservists.
McLendon lost to businesswoman Genevieve Collins by 19-percentage points during the March primary.
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