By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 6, 2006
The Air Force is investigating whether a two-star general violated military regulations by urging fellow Air Force Academy graduates to make campaign contributions to a Republican candidate for Congress in Colorado, Pentagon officials said yesterday.
Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr., who is on active duty at Langley Air Force Base, sent the fundraising appeal on Thursday from his official e-mail account to more than 200 fellow members of the academy's class of 1976, many of whom are also on active duty.
"We are certainly in need of Christian men with integrity and military experience in Congress," Catton wrote.
Defense Department rules prohibit active-duty officers from using their position to solicit campaign contributions or seek votes for a particular candidate. An Air Force spokesman said yesterday that "appropriate officials are inquiring into the facts surrounding these e-mails."
Catton's e-mail was provided to The Washington Post by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit group founded last year by Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, White House counsel in the Reagan administration.
"This is not just a small thing," said Weinstein, who is suing the Air Force to halt what he contends is pervasive proselytizing in the armed forces. "It's evidence of a continuing attack on separation of church and state by evangelicals in the military."
Catton urged his classmates to support Bentley Rayburn, a recently retired Air Force general seeking the Republican nomination for a House seat being vacated this year by Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.). Hefley's district around Colorado Springs includes the Air Force Academy, several military bases and the headquarters of Focus on the Family, James Dobson's Christian broadcasting organization.
Both Catton's e-mail and an accompanying note from Rayburn portrayed him as a candidate who would represent the military and conservative Christians.
"The lack of any Air Force presence within the Congress was particularly telling over the last few years," Rayburn wrote, referring to controversy over proselytizing at the Air Force Academy and new Air Force regulations on religious expression. "For those of us who are Christians, there is that whole other side of the coin that recognizes that we need more Christian influence in Congress."
Rayburn, a 1975 graduate of the Air Force Academy, said yesterday that Catton's only mistake was sending the message out from his official e-mail account.
Catton said in a telephone interview that he realized after he sent the e-mail Thursday evening that it was "inappropriate" and attempted to recall it Friday morning.
"I'm traveling and I was going through e-mails last night, on the airplane, and very excited about one of my academy brothers running for Congress, and forwarded the e-mail to my classmates to share the excitement," he said.
"And when I got up this morning I had an e-mail from one of my classmates who said, 'Jack, do you realize you were on your work computer?' I went, 'Holy smokes!' And so I immediately sent out a recall of that e-mail, because I shouldn't have sent it out on my work computer, because it's inappropriate."
Pentagon lawyers declined to comment while the circumstances are under investigation. A former Air Force lawyer, retired Brig. Gen. James W. Swanson, said the use of an official e-mail address "is probably an aggravator, but it isn't the essence of the offense."
"Clearly this country wants and needs an apolitical military," he said. "It sounds like an excess of enthusiasm, but I'd be surprised if there is not some sort of disciplinary or administrative action in this case."