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Major Ravnsborg Should Review Military Regulations on Political Campaigning

Last updated on 2014.03.25

It's funny that, in a Senate race in which Marion Michael Rounds is the only licensed pilot, it's his challengers who brand themselves with banner images of planes they've never flown.

Annette Bosworth and family during first exploratory campaign swing through West River, June 2013
Annette Bosworth and family during first exploratory campaign swing through West River, June 2013
Jason Ravnsborg's favorite campaign photo so far
Jason Ravnsborg's favorite campaign photo so far

I have no problem with folks getting photos of themselves standing next to really interesting machines of war.

But the military might have a problem with Major Ravnsborg's use of military machines and uniform in his campaign materials.

In announcing his candidacy this week, Ravnsborg describes himself as a four-tour U.S. Army transportation officer. He says he is "currently serving as a Major in a joint intelligence unit in Minneapolis with a top secret clearance." Currently serving suggests to me active duty. Ravnsborg is at least not using the word retired to describe his military status.

Now I've never flown an A-10 Warthog, but I think I can pilot us through this Department of Defense Directive on Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces:

4.1.2. A member of the Armed Forces on active duty shall not: Participate in partisan political fundraising activities (except as permitted in subparagraph, rallies, conventions (including making speeches in the course thereof), management of campaigns, or debates, either on one’s own behalf or on that of another, without respect to uniform or inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement. Participation includes more than mere attendance as a spectator. (See subparagraph

... Speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause. Participate in any radio, television, or other program or group discussion as an advocate for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause [Department of Defense Directive No. 1344.10, 2008.02.19].

If Major Ravnsborg is actively majoring, he won't be calling for dollars or joining the debates with Annette, Stace, and Cardboard Mike (dang: Team Bosworth has totally not capitalized on that fun November meme).

Members not on active duty are freer to campaign, but they still face restrictions. Campaign communications including their duties, titles, positions, and photos in uniform must also include a disclaimer like this one:

“John Doe is a member of the Army National Guard. Use of his military rank, job titles, and photographs in uniform does not imply endorsement by the Department of the Army or the Department of Defense.” [DOD Directive No. 1344.10, section]

As of my last check, Ravnsborg includes no such disclaimer on his website. Neither does Marine Corps veteran Rep. Stace Nelson, who makes regular use of his old service pics in his campaign literature. But since Nelson is neither active nor reserve, his only obligation appears to be to make clear that he is retired... and besides, he's out of the service, so what's General Amos going to do, take away Stace's government-run health care?

Service members not on active duty still may not do the following in their campaign literature: 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.

Ravnsborg is introducing himself to voters with the above A-10/uniform photo as his primary graphic representation. It appears on his website, in his first online ad, and with his first press announcement.

Also verboten: 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.

Does that include posing with equipment that the soldier doesn't operate? Maybe that's nitpicking, but as I understand the military, if you get an order, you don't say, "No way, sir, that's nitpicking." You follow the order. And this Defense Department directive seems to give active and reserve duty soldiers pretty clear orders against doing some of the things Major Ravnsborg is doing on his political campaign website.


  1. Dicta 2013.12.18

    "Currently serving" does not necessarily imply active duty, and thus renders your analysis of 4.1.2 and its subsections moot in its entirety.

    Your point regarding the disclaimer is absolutely valid, and one would hope Mr. Ravnsborg takes appropriate action in that respect.

    As to you raise a possibly valid concern. Obviously, the text at issue in this subsection would be "as the primary graphic representation in any campaign media." I suspect he would argue that his graphic of Mt. Rushmore is "the" primary graphic representation," but this is certainly debatable given the prominence of the photo. Caselaw would help here.

    Finally, is likely irrelevant here as well, since he does not depict himself in the cockpit or operating it in any matter. The aviator glasses don't help him, but I think he would be fine here as well.

    I think the only critique here that has any bite is likely the one regarding the disclaimer. Nonetheless, it is an important one, and I hope he rectifies the oversight.

  2. Lynn G. 2013.12.18

    Dr. Bos photo at the museum is actually pretty cool showing and promoting with a little pride in South Dakota's historic and vital role in our nations' defense.

    While I greatly appreciate Ravnsborg's service to his country I am a skeptical and a little annoyed why he would place himself in front of a A-10 Warthog for campaign purposes. When I initially viewed his campaign page I immediately thought he was a pilot. Those are one of my favorite planes and from being in an Army component would greatly appreciate one protecting us if we had to go to war. I didn't see the disclaimer and I'm sure others won't.

    It would be like me posing for a photo with Army Ranger's, Green Beret's or whatever claiming to be someone I wasn't for some personal gain. I believe everyone whether they be a cook, supply clerk, fighter, chaplain, nurse, pilot or whatever their MOS is plays a vital role in the military and am grateful for what they do.

    It's just a very poor choice for a campaign photo.

  3. Lynn G. 2013.12.18

    Prior post please substitute the word *claiming* for giving the impression. Sorry need another cup of coffee this morning.

  4. Nick Nemec 2013.12.18

    The photo of Candidate Ravnsborg in uniform in front of the A-10 Warthog really bothers me. It is an obvious attempt to mislead the unknowing public that he is the pilot of the plane. He is not a pilot, nor is he a crew chief or member of a ground support team for that aircraft, in fact he's not even a member of the US Air Force, the only branch of the military that flies this particular aircraft.

    He is lying, you don't have to use words to lie, you can lie by failing to correct a misunderstanding once you learn of it. An image can misrepresent the truth, misleading people or misrepresenting the facts is just a euphemism for lying. Do South Dakota citizens want a US Senator who would lie to them from his very first public introduction?

  5. Caitlin 2013.12.18

    One would think that an attorney would familiarize themselves with the rules noted. Failure to acquaint oneself with the rules - the law- might indicate an existing problem.

  6. John Tsitrian 2013.12.18

    lol. A "Transportation Officer" standing in front of a Warthog. I guess it does make for a better visual than a truck loaded with supplies. Doubt that I'll follow this hopeless campaign much, but I hope he does spare his few listeners the endless recitation of his military experiences that come from Stace Nelson. Why do these guys think a humdrum military hitch makes for a relevant or even marginally interesting aspect of their campaign pitches?

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.18

    "Dicta": You are right that "currently serving" does not equal "active duty"; that's why I use the word "suggests". Ravnsborg's description is unclear. I recognize 4.1.2's possible mootness, but offer it for completeness, just in case.

    "Primary graphic representation" is indeed debatable. His home page rotates images; now the lead is indeed Mt. Rushmore with fighter jets flying out of the presidents' heads. But the ad he uses to invite people to his website is the photo under discussion here. And civilian Lynn's initial reaction to the photo shows the deceptive impression that photo can make.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.18

    John, it's one thing to beat the "I served my country" drum. Arguably, Ravnsborg and Nelson are a touch more authentic than Rounds, who tries to wrap himself in others' military service by asking vets to stand and be recognized at his speeches. But a more instructive tack for Ravnsborg and Nelson to take would be to explain to us how their military experience would make them produce better legislation and provide better constituent service. They should also explain specific policies they would support to help active duty soldiers do their jobs... or better yet, keep from having to do their jobs in war.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.18

    Caitlin, you clearly aren't familiar with the South Dakota bar. It seems one doesn't go to USD Law to learn how to follow the rules; one goes to USD Law to learn that rules don't apply to oneself.

  10. Brian 2013.12.18

    Seems like everyone is grasping at straws trying to figure out any way they can to tear Ravnsborg down. Why don't we all take a step back, listen to what he has to say and judge him on that rather than a picture he took in front of an airplane.

  11. Nick Nemec 2013.12.18

    First impressions are important and the first impression he tries to present doesn't match the facts.

  12. Lynn G. 2013.12.18

    Nick exactly. It hurts his credibility right off the start.

  13. Brian 2013.12.18

    Nick, Like the fact that he IS in the army reserves. I don't think he is trying to make anyone think he is a pilot, and what does it matter what his job is in the army, he served and is serving. Instead of cutting him down for his service maybe you should just say "thank you". You may not agree with his politics but why cut the man down for serving his country. Go after him for his stance on issues you don't agree with if that makes you feel better but going after a photo, that just makes you seem to be grasping at anything to bring him down.

  14. Jenny 2013.12.18

    I totally agree, Brian. People are getting worked up over a picture for gosh sakes! Cool it, maybe he just likes warthog planes! Move on to more important matters, folks.

  15. John Tsitrian 2013.12.18

    Brian and Jenny, pics of contending candidates in front of military gear that have no bearing on their backgrounds and are obviously used as props are of relevance, whether you wish that we'd all stick to the issues or not. Remember Michael Dukakis and that Abrams tank?

  16. Disgusted Dakotan 2013.12.18

    He was a reserve transportation officer who has made his whole campaign backdrop about his short period of being called to active duty for 2 + or - years. Making it about being an attorney from Iowa just won't excite people.

    I have to agree with the criticism above, in addition to being obvious violations of military law, it is dishonest.

    Interesting to note, he has ties with Dan Lederman, Joel Arends, and Jason Glodt. The former are both Rounds lackies who also have helped Annette Bosworth. The latter is one of Rounds' key campaign staff members.

  17. Nick Nemec 2013.12.18

    Brian, I'm not cutting him down for his service. But, I do question why the most prominent depiction of that service is him standing in aviator glasses in front of an airplane that isn't even flown by his branch of the military.

    Were I to run for public office a photo of me by a M-198 or M-101 howitzer wouldn't be out of line because those were the cannons cannon batteries I actually served with, and trained on, fired. Nor would a photo of me humping a radio with the grunts of Charlie company 1st Bn 6th Marines be out of line because I actually did that as a forward observer.

    A photo of me standing on the bridge of a Navy ship looking in charge, (and such a photo exists) would be out of line for a campaign piece because I never had anything to do with operating that ship. It creates an impression I'm something I'm not.

    As a military officer your honor is your most prized possession. I question the fitness for service in the US Senate of any person who doesn't understand that.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.18

    Straws or not, a soldier still has to follow orders. As Nick and DD say above, Ravnsborg is choosing to focus his opening message on his military service, and that messaging may violate certain rules. We're not grasping at straws; we're discussing his primary message.

  19. joseph g thompson 2013.12.18

    Gonna stay out of this since I am with my son and his family in the land of sunshine and 75 degrees, except to say an army officer serving on active duty is a currently serving U.S. Army officer; an officer serving in the South Dakota Army National Guard is a currently serving South Dakota National Guard officer; a South Dakota Army National Guard officer serving on active duty is a currently serving U.S. Army officer. Don't know which he is but he should clarify, different rules apply to both. If it is still an issue in a couple of weeks, I will tell all about what an old school senior NCO was taught in the olden days about active duty officers and enlisted people dabbling in politics. MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.18

    Stay cool, Joseph! Don't get heat stroke for Christmas! :-)

  21. joseph g thompson 2013.12.18

    i agree with Mr. Nemec 100 per cent

  22. Jenny 2013.12.18

    Well, I say a soldier that has been sent off three times to an unpopular war can stand in front of any dang plane he wants to!

  23. Rorschach 2013.12.18

    Disgusted Dakotan nailed it. Rounsberg is not in it to win it. Like Annette Bosworth, he's part of the heat shield designed to dilute the message of Rounds's primary opponents. Unlike Bosworth, who I don't believe is coordinating with the Rounds campaign, I believe Rounsberg's goal is to get a plum political job from his buddies in the Daugaard administration after being Mike Rounds's "wingman" for a few months.

  24. Nick Nemec 2013.12.18

    Jenny is missing the point here. The only depiction of candidate Ravnsborg's military service, which he has chosen to focus on, is one his campaign released of him looking large and in charge, standing in front of a piece of gear he wandered past and never had anything to do with. This is lying by omission, he forgot to tell us the context, ie "One day I had to give an intel briefing to the pilots of an Air Force squadron. Afterwords I wandered out to the flight line and before the crew chief told me to get the hell off his flight line my buddy snapped this photo of me standing in front of their planes."

  25. PNR 2013.12.18

    Cory is correct. The primary objectives of the regulations are twofold: 1) to maintain the neutrality of the Armed Forces regarding partisan politics in order to sustain and uphold civilian control of the military; and 2) to prevent situations in which the objectivity of the chain-of-command is compromised either in perception or fact (this is why one may not either give campaign contributions to or accept them from other active duty military). Thus a statement a little further down in that regulation that Cory didn't get to...

    4.2.2. A regular member, or a retired regular or Reserve Component member on active duty under a call or order to active duty for more than 270 days, may not be a nominee or candidate for the offices described in subparagraph 4.2.1., except when the Secretary concerned grants permission.

    Maj. Ravnsborg says "currently serving" - the implication is that he's currently active (and there are full-time members of the Guard and Reserves) rather than currently a drilling reservist. At least, when I said I was "currently serving" it meant I was on active duty or mobilized for active duty. Otherwise, I said I was "in the Reserves."

    That distinction, by the way, is important to a lot of us veterans, for the same reason we get very upset about people wearing medals and claiming awards they haven't earned. While he may be justly proud of his service, it is unwise of Maj. Ravnsborg to fudge his claims regarding that service even a little.

    So I have two questions for him: 1) Does "currently serving" mean you are on active duty or full time Reserves? and 2) If yes, then has the "Secretary concerned" granted permission for your candidacy?

  26. Disgusted Dakotan 2013.12.18

    It seems that violations of orders and regulations is not a small matter and is a serious crime in the military Page 307:

    e. Maximum punishment.
    (1) Violation of or failure to obey lawful general
    order or regulation. Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture
    of all pay and allowances, and confinement for
    2 years.

    Curious if "Conduct Unbecoming a Commissioned Officer" would be relevant also?

  27. Bree S. 2013.12.18

    Veterans will disagree with you Jenny. Also, he's implying that he doesn't think his own service was adequate compared to an AF pilot's, that it was somehow inferior, which is a slam to the U.S. Army.

  28. Jim 2013.12.18

    Forget the photo for a sec, the guys subscribes to Sarah Palin News. I don't think even Mr. Grudz could stomach a breakfast with that woman.

  29. PNR 2013.12.18

    Okay, so he is NOT active duty - he is currently serving as a drilling reservist with an intel unit based in MN. He should be clearer on that.

    He is still running afoul of regulations requiring he not use images that may misrepresent or mischaracterize the nature of his service, or images of himself in uniform where that image is the dominant one.

    His service as a transportation officer in '04-'05 is nothing to be sneered at. It was dangerous work in Iraq at that time (of the 6 KIA in our BN, 4 were to IEDs while in convoys). Anyone who was there at the time (I was with a Marine BN between Fallujah & Baghdad in '04) knows full well the risks run. A lot of company commanders similarly situated weren't able to bring everyone home. He doesn't need the A-10. It is foolish on multiple levels to make that the trademark image of his campaign.

  30. Bree S. 2013.12.18

    Also here's another guy claiming to be a conservative Republican - and yet writes a slobberingly affectionate book review about Truman. And he can't decide if he lives Minneapolis or Yankton.

  31. Disgusted Dakotan 2013.12.18

    I cannot believe the Army would be happy with any of this or our Intelligence community would be thrilled that this guy is broadcasting to the world that he is an Intelligence officer with Top Secret security clearance:

  32. Rorschach 2013.12.18

    His campaign isn't for the senate, PRN. His campaign is to be appointed as the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs, or maybe the next Adjutant General of the SD National Guard. To accomplish that, he must be a good "wingman" to Mike Rounds until Rounds's Republican primary mission is accomplished in June 2014. You've got a bright future, young man, if you're a good soldier for Mike Rounds.

  33. Rick 2013.12.18

    He's a decorated pilot who served us in war, right?

    Pictures are powerful tools, especially when they play on our love, concern and support for our fighting women and men in wartime service. I'll let the brass sort out whether he's guilty of conduct unbecoming a commissioned officer. That photo isn't aimed at a military court, it's aimed at impressing voters and striking a lasting first impression.

    I will say this Rounds RINO Heat Shield tool is guilty of being a jackass. I hope people understand the falsehoods contained in the photo.

    But you don't even have to have a photo to accomplish the same task. I remember being told "hey, I saw a photo of Kitty Dukakis spitting on an American flag" and "I've seen a photo of (female county commission candidate) at a flag burning rally." I asked where these people saw the photo, and the answer was the same in both cases. "Well, I don't own it, but I saw it!"

    Either way, the falsehood has a lasting impact.

  34. Douglas Wiken 2013.12.18

    Military photos showing a military bureacrat sitting behind a desk with a dusty or muddy truck behind and piles of cargo probably don't rouse interest. He could settle for the standard flim-flam and just pose in front of a huge flag or the entrance gate to Ellsworth AFB. But, any flack of any party can do that.

  35. Jenny 2013.12.18

    Here, here, Rorschach! The Jason Ravnsborg decoy prop mastered by the Rounds campaign is working as the SD dems fight amongst themselves.

  36. dicta 2013.12.18


    I agree with your point regarding the deceptive impression of the photo. I only posted to respond to points about what may be in violation of DoD directives. As we've seen in the comments section, there seems to be a bit of conflation going on between what practices the candidate may be participating in that are deceptive, and what are running afoul of regs. I think it is completely valid to note that he is giving a false impression by standing in front of an A-10, but I do not think he violates DoD policy, save for the disclaimer. Nonetheless, I think energies regarding Mr. Ravnsborg would be better directed at noting his complete lack of experience in any political arena and his extremely late entry into a primary when he has almost zero fundraising experience as well.

  37. Bree S. 2013.12.18

    I have to admit that I find it offensive for a Major in the Army Reserves to suggest Air Force service is somehow better. Quite offensive, actually. And I'm not a veteran, just an Army brat.

  38. Lynn G. 2013.12.18

    Ok I get it now. He's not really running for Senate. He's running for a political appointment. Correct?

  39. Rorschach 2013.12.18

    It's the SD GOP fighting against themselves, 8675309. Dems will wait for the last GOP standing and throw Rick Weiland at him.

  40. Jenny 2013.12.18

    Rick, I also saw a photo of Smilin' Mike and Joop Bollen that Cory put up on here. Now that is the photo that should have concerned South Dakotans talking. Think of what a powerful tool THAT photo could have in these next 11 months.

  41. Rorschach 2013.12.18

    Yes, Lynn G. Exactly. Watch and wait for it.

  42. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.19

    Dicta, I do agree that we'll have stronger, more relevant arguments to throw at Ravnsborg as he offers more policy statements and exposes his inexperience. (His critique of the ACA is already stale, ineffective, and inconsistent.)

    I disagree that his "late" entry is grounds for criticism. Petitions aren't even circulating yet. Noem entered the House race in 2010 in late February. Thune didn't announce for Senate in 2004 until January. Sure, announcing early helps lock in donors and scare off challengers (though early-bird Rounds has drawn four challengers), but is there really any practical deadline other than the signature deadline for entry into a Senate race?

  43. dicta 2013.12.20

    Practically speaking, I think the decision to enter the race this late in the game when: 1) You have no political experience; 2) Are a complete unknown in SD politics; 3) As far as I can tell, have raised little to no money in supportof a campaign; and 4) Aren't even involved in the Yankton County GOP (they talk about this in the comments section over at PP's joint) amounts to a bad decision. I hope he enjoys his tilt at the windmills, but I believe his campaign stands a less than zero chance at success in any meaningful sense of the term.

  44. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.20

    Good practical assessment. Thune had all sorts of connections, experience, name recognition, and prep work in the chute for his Senate race. Noem had more catching up to do, but she too had assets to build on. Ravnsborg looks just slightly more ready than my friend Thad Wasson was when he announced for House in summer 2009—not very!

    But if he's the new heat shield for Rounds to replace the collapsing Bosworth, he'll get the help he needs to gather his 1,955 signatures, get on the ballot, and perform his expected function.

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