Lindsey Graham is banking on his support from the military and defense industry to help catapult him into the White House -- or at least keep his presidential campaign alive a little longer. While the South Carolina senator’s connection runs deep as a retired Air Force Reserve officer and member of the Committee on Armed Services, the latest venture from a super PAC backing him appears to skirt rules set by military higher-ups.
A super PAC called Security is Strength is set to roll out $1 million in television ads that will feature Graham in his military uniform -- a move that essentially flouts the Pentagon rules restricting the use of uniforms in political campaigns. The policy serves to prevent any impression of endorsement from the armed forces.
There are exceptions to this rule: Candidates who have retired from the military may use their uniforms in ads if they include a disclaimer stating “that neither the military information nor photographs imply endorsement by the Department of Defense or their particular Military Department.” Campaigns also must “clearly indicate their retired or reserve status.”
The ad in support of Graham from the super PAC does not appear to provide all of this information. The ad does say that the “use of Senator Graham's rank, job titles, and photographs does not imply endorsement by the Department of the Air Force or the Department of Defense.” But it does not explicitly state the senator’s rank or status as a retired colonel of the Air Force Reserve. The voiceover from political ally Sen. John McCain simply refers to Graham’s “three decades of military service.”
Election law prevents candidates from coordinating super PAC activities, but the groups are often led by confidants or former staffers. Graham’s former deputy chief of staff, Andrew King, runs the super PAC behind the ad.
Graham’s treatment of his military service in television advertisements has come under fire before. USA Today reported in July that his campaign was using his Air Force uniform “front and center” in ads. However, the disclosure provided in at least one of the campaign ads is more comprehensive than the one in the super PAC ad.
That ad states: "Senator Graham is a retired member of the Air Force Reserve. Use of his military rank, job titles, and photographs in uniform does not imply endorsement by the Department of the Air Force or the Department of Defense."