A Couple More Thoughts on McDonnell's Speech

Friday, January 29, 2010

Aside from the long list of lies in Bob McDonnell's response to the State of the Union speech Wednesday night, people are raising other questions as well. For instance, yesterday I received the following email:
...McDonnell's folks brought in tons of soundtrucks and HD cameras last night for the format change. In these lean times where everyone is tightening their belts and McDonnell is engaging in symbolic gestures like the salary cuts for his Cabinet, the question is whether any Virginia taxpayer dollars were used to change the traditional format for the sole purpose of promoting Bob McDonnell's national profile?
Good question, does anyone know the answer to this?

In addition, there's the issue of whether McDonnell broke military law by having a person in uniform sitting behind him as he delivered a partisan, political speech.
You did not have to be paying much attention during last night's Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address to notice a young Army Staff Sergeant in full dress uniform seated prominently right behind Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and enthusiastically applauding and cheering at the Governor's attacks on Democrats.

Slight problem, you see. That is probably against the law.

Look it up for yourself right here in the Department of Defense (DoD) Directive entitled "Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces." The purpose of this DoD Directive is to mirror the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from engaging in partisan political activity in an official capacity. Since a DoD Directive is considered to be in the same category as an order or regulation, and military personnel violating its provisions can be considered in violation of Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, our Republican friends may have just caused this brave young soldier to break the law. Thank you for that, Governor McDonnell.
But wait, you say, isn't the response to the State of the Union pretty much equivalent from a legal point of view to the State of the Union itself, at which people in military uniform often appear? I checked into this, and here's what I was told:
The response is carried on television networks as 'equal time' to balance out the perspective of the president. The president gives his speech in his role as head of government, though, as set out in the constitution. The response speech, meanwhile, is a partisan activity, coordinated by various party committees. (Note that McDonnell even ran Google ads for the response yesterday through his PAC.)

In most contexts, this comes down to a distinction without a difference. But this is one of the exceptions.
Any lawyers out there care to weigh in on this?