The veterans' group's leader wrote in 2016 that nonpartisanship is a 'mandate.'
A campaign ad for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that aired in September included imagery taken inside American Legion Post 273, potentially violating the group's rules against partisan political activity.
The ad focuses primarily on DeSantis' military background. He was a naval commissioned officer who served in Iraq as an adviser to the Navy SEALs. In the ad, a Navy captain talks about DeSantis' military record and endorses him as a public servant.
In one of the ad's scenes, several uniformed men stand in a room inside American Legion Post 273, which is located in Madeira Beach, Florida.
The legion's National Constitution prohibits the organization from engaging in political activity.
"The American Legion shall be absolutely nonpolitical and shall not be used for the dissemination of partisan principles nor for the promotion of the candidacy of any person seeking public office or preferment," the group's charter reads.
However, there is no indication in the ad that the group endorses DeSantis' candidacy.
"I don't believe that anyone viewing the ad could reasonably conclude or surmise that The American Legion is endorsing the campaign," American Legion Post 273 Commander John B. Raughter told the American Independent Foundation.
American Legion National Commander Charles E. Schmidt wrote about the group's nonpartisan mission in a column posted to the organization's website in 2016:
As leader of the nation's largest veterans service organization, I am frequently asked who The American Legion is supporting in this year's presidential election. My answer is simple: "veterans." And by that answer I am not referring to a candidate's military service (or lack thereof) but to his or her proposals on issues such as VA health care, a strong national defense and border security.
Sometimes, if the questioner is unaware of our nonpartisanship, a follow-up is asked along the lines of "who does the Legion really support, Trump or Hillary?" My answer is the same, "The American Legion supports veterans."
While a lot of organizations claim nonpartisanship, it is a mandate that is enshrined in The American Legion's Constitution and is backed up by the examples set forth by our World War I veteran founders.
This is not the first time DeSantis has used his military background in his political ads. A prior ad used the popularity of the film "Top Gun: Maverick" to draw attention to DeSantis' combative relationship with the media.
The ad parodies the Tom Cruise movie and has DeSantis listing the rules of engagement with the press. Dressed in a bomber jacket, the governor says: "The rules of engagement are as follows: Number one — don't fire unless fired upon, but when they fire, you fire back with overwhelming force. Number two — never, ever back down from a fight. Number three — don't accept their narrative."
In a press conference promoting the "Top Gun" ad, DeSantis criticized the Navy for its efforts to increase cultural sensitivity among its members.
"I take my son to watch 'Top Gun: Maverick,' right? And you're proud of seeing the pilots and all that. Then in real life, what's the Navy doing? They're focusing on pronouns and all these other things, this woke garbage, while China's laughing at us," DeSantis said.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.