Paul Campaign Pulls in Cash from Military Donors

By: Paul J. Weber, Asssociated Press
By: Paul J. Weber, Asssociated Press

Gavelston, TX (AP) - An Army reservist who spoke up for Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul while in uniform -- and landed in trouble for it -- is just one of the soldiers getting behind the Texas congressman's campaign.

Plenty of other troops simply send Paul some campaign cash.

Paul arrived Friday in New Hampshire riding the momentum of a top-three finish in Iowa, a fundraising haul of $13 million in the last quarter and bragging rights of having more donors who list military affiliations than his Republican rivals combined.

Not among those contributors: Cpl. Jesse Thorsen, who gushed that it was "like meeting a rock star" when he joined Paul on stage wearing his camouflaged fatigues in Iowa this week. That ran afoul of Defense Department rules involving partisan political events, though the military doesn't prohibit soldiers from giving money to candidates.

Paul is the only Republican who says he'll bring home nearly all U.S. forces if elected, and that could be helping him draw in dollars.

Paul received at least $95,567 from military donors between January and September of last year, the most recent data available, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That's nearly seven times what Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, who edged out Paul in Iowa, collected from military donors combined.

Retired Army Sgt. Thomas Rutherford, whose campaign contribution of $201 hit the threshold for public disclosure under federal election law, believes soldiers started taking a closer look at Paul's opposition to U.S. intervention after experiencing it firsthand.

"He has the firmest grasp on foreign policy of all of them," said Rutherford, 36. "I used to think we're the biggest, best country in the world and we have to go over there and show them how to do it. In the military, I came to the conclusion that the best way how to do it wasn't to use the Army."

Experts on political activity in the military say the money doesn't necessarily mean Paul, 76, is the preferred Republican candidate among U.S. service members. But no other contender in race has had a soldier make such a splash on their behalf as Thorsen, who's gone from be a 28-year-old reservist off active duty to a political celebrity overnight.

Thorsen became Paul's best-known supporter in uniform after appearing on the podium at the campaign's Iowa headquarters Tuesday night.

"We don't need to be picking fights overseas and I think everybody knows that, too," he said to loud applause.

Thorsen later told The Associated Press that he believes many troops support Paul.

"A lot more than you would think, absolutely," he said. "And, I think one thing that would help is more people need to stop voting for what they think is best for their party and start voting for what they think is best for their country."

Military rules prohibit soldiers from expressing opinions about candidates while in uniform. Thorsen has stopped giving interviews to news media.

A spokeswoman for the Army Reserve, Maj. Angel Wallace, said Friday that Thorsen's company commander plans to meet with him in coming days to discuss his appearance with Paul while in uniform and to decide whether disciplinary action is required.

Paul's Iowa campaign chairman, Drew Ivers, said Paul invited Thorsen to speak after a live interview Thorsen had with CNN was cut off for technical difficulties. He said the campaign thought Thorsen would know the rules about political activity in uniform and that it didn't know he could get in trouble.

"It was not planned, scheduled, rehearsed or scripted," Ivers said of Thorsen's appearance at the rally. "I think his spontaneous reaction for 30 seconds on stage is reflective of the general military support for Ron Paul. We've established that through a number of other areas."

Soldiers throwing money behind Paul isn't new. The former Air Force surgeon is one of two veterans in this year's GOP field, along with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who also served in the Air Force. Paul raised more money from military donors in his 2008 presidential run than his rivals in that campaign.

Between January and September, Romney raised $13,300 and Santorum $750 among donors who listed a military affiliation as their employer. Newt Gingrich had $4,900. Paul also outpaced military donations made to President Barack Obama, who had $72,616.

The donations are a mix of those on active duty and veterans, though the exact mix is unclear. Rutherford, for instance, was medically discharged from the Army in 2002, but his donation doesn't indicate that he's no longer on active duty.

The outsize number of military donors is a badge of honor for the Paul campaign, which has been derisively mocked as the choice of pot smokers, 9/11 conspiracy theorists and idealistic young voters whose wild enthusiasm at campaign stops doesn't always translate to Election Day turnout.

Army Maj. Heidi Urben, who was a task force intelligence officer in Afghanistan, studied political activism among soldiers for her dissertation at Georgetown University. She surveyed more than 4,000 soldiers in 2009 by email, asking questions such as whether they had ever donated money to a political candidate or party.

The survey wasn't specific to actual candidates, but about 20 percent told Urben they had made campaign contributions at some point in their lives. More than 80 percent of respondents said they voted in the 2008 presidential election.

Soldiers were more likely to donate the higher their rank, but Urben, who teaches at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said she found that other than voting, political activism in Army ranks is fairly muted.

"Our intrepid corporal is a bit of an outlier, but an instructive outlier nonetheless (a great teaching moment for my cadets here too on what's permissible and what's not)," Urben wrote in an email to the AP.

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Associated Press writers Robert Ray and Ryan J. Foley in Iowa contributed to this report.


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