San Diego congressional candidate's use of military rank in campaign raises questions
By ANDREW DYER | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: February 25, 2020
SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Janessa Goldbeck, who left the Marine Corps six weeks before announcing her candidacy for the 53rd Congressional District, has made her military experience a big part of her campaign in a district with a large population of veterans and active duty service members.
One of her opponents, who is a Marine Corps Reservist, says she is misleading voters about her status in the military. Goldbeck says she is not.
The controversy shines a light on how military rules come into play when a veteran — or an active reservist — decides to become a political candidate.
Goldbeck, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community, joined the Marine Corps Reserve shortly after the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" and later spent four years on active duty. She deployed with NATO allies in Romania, according to military records, and left the Marines in August after a stint as a protocol officer at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
She immediately transitioned to the Individual Ready Reserve, and will remain affiliated with Marine Forces Reserve until May 23, according to her military record.
The Individual Ready Reserve is a fallback reserve force that can be called on if needed. Otherwise these reservists "receive no pay and are not obligated to drill, conduct annual training or participate in any military activities ... until ordered by Presidential Authority," according to the Marine Forces Reserve website.
By contrast, active reservists are paid and are obligated to drill, train and fulfill other military responsibilities, spanning from every month plus two weeks a year, to full-time daily duty.
Goldbeck's campaign mailers and press releases don't use the term Individual Ready Reserve.
They identify her as "Captain Janessa Goldbeck, USMC" and "a former Captain in the United States Marine Corps." At least one mailer says in fine print "Janessa Goldbeck is a Captain in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve."
That's what's misleading, said Chris Stoddard, a major in the Marine Corps Reserve — the Active Reserve, not the Individual Ready Reserve.
"If you served, that's great, but putting 'USMC Captain' implies that that's your job," Stoddard said in a phone interview. "It's misleading. You don't drill; you don't do anything — you're basically a civilian."
Stoddard is one of 14 candidates running for the 53rd District seat. Stoddard is Republican; Goldbeck is a Democrat.
Goldbeck, in a phone interview Thursday, defended her use of her rank and status as a Marine Corps Reservist in her campaign marketing, even though she is not drilling or doing other things typical of an active reservist.
"It's a title and rank that I earned," she said. "Is that one word on a mailer potentially confusing? I don't know, but that's not a nonfactual statement."
On Friday, Maj. Roger Hollenbeck, a spokesman for Marine Forces Reserve, clarified that Goldbeck's status in the Individual Ready Reserve means she is a reservist.
"Saying you're in the reserves, the assumption is you drill on the weekends," Hollenbeck said. "But that's not correct."
Stoddard said that as an active reservist, he is bound by a Pentagon regulation that Goldbeck isn't.
That regulation — Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 — restricts some political activities of members of the armed forces, including candidates. Members on active duty are not allowed to run for office, but members of the Active Reserve, such as Stoddard, are.
Stoddard, who also is a full-time airline pilot, said the confusion has also spilled onto the March 3 ballot, where he lists his occupation as "Pilot/Officer/Realtor" and Goldbeck lists hers as "Businesswoman/USMC Captain."
"She put 'USMC Captain' on her ballot description," Stoddard said. "I can't do that on mine. She can use it and I can't, even though I'm currently serving."
Goldbeck said her ballot description is accurate and was approved by the California Secretary of State.
The Pentagon directive also says political candidates must include a "prominent and clear" disclaimer on campaign materials that any military information does not "imply endorsement" from the military department with which the candidate is affiliated. They also must state their veteran or reserve status.
It's not clear whether Goldbeck, as a member of the Individual Ready Reserve, is bound by the Pentagon directive — she says she is not. Marine Forces Reserve could not say whether she is bound by it, but said Stoddard — who is still in uniform — is.
Goldbeck, nevertheless, included the fineprint disclaimer "Photographs in uniform does not imply endorsement by the Department of Defense or the Marine Corps" on her mailer anyway. She said she did it under an "abundance of caution," and she doesn't believe it is confusing to voters.
"My obligation as a Marine is to make sure that I am not misrepresenting the Marine Corps," she said. "My obligation to the electorate is to accurately describe my service."
Goldbeck and Stoddard are not the only veterans running in the district. Democrats Jose Caballero and Suzette Santori both served in the Navy; however, neither candidate is using their previous military titles in their campaign.
Goldbeck's campaign pushed back against any suggestion of impropriety in Goldbeck's use of her rank and title, pointing to retired military officers Doug Applegate, Kim Olson, Amy McGrath and Wesley Clark as candidates who have used military ranks in their campaigns.
Of the four, the Union-Tribune found two used their ranks in their campaigns — retired Marine Col. Doug Applegate in his 2016 campaign for Congress in California's 49th District, and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark in his 2004 run for president.
Neither McGrath nor Olsen incorporate their former military ranks on their campaign websites, but, in a video, Olsen introduces herself as "retired Colonel Kim Olson."
In a race where there is one clear front runner, Goldbeck is trying to break out of the pack.
Goldbeck, with 2 percent support from likely voters in the district, was in a five-way tie for eighth place in a Feb. 4 San Diego Union-Tribune/ 10News poll, while Stoddard, with 10 percent support, came in second. Front-runner Sara Jacobs, a Democrat, led all candidates with 23 percent support.
Goldbeck said her campaign is on the upswing, citing a spate of endorsements, including one by the Union-Tribune Editorial Board. She's also endorsed by Marine combat veteran Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts, and the Democratic super PAC VoteVets.