Ron Paul boasts that he gets more fundraising dollars from military members than any other Republican presidential candidate, but the enthusiastic support of one enlisted man could get the supporter in trouble.
Cpl. Jesse Thorsen spoke at Paul's post-Iowa caucuses rally to give his support for the Texas congressman and his non-interventionist -- critics say isolationist -- policies calling for strict limits on the use of U.S. military power.
But Thorsen, 28, a reservist who preceded his appearance at the rally with an interview on CNN, was wearing his fatigues, and that is a violation of military code.
According to the Defense Department directive on political activities by military members, active duty forces are encouraged to vote and can sign petitions, serve as polling volunteers, contribute to campaigns and display political bumper stickers on their private vehicles.
However, they may not "participate in partisan political fundraising activities ... rallies, conventions (including making speeches in the course thereof), management of campaigns, or debates, either on one's own behalf or on that of another, without respect to uniform or inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement."
They also may not "speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause" or "participate in any radio, television or other program or group discussion as an advocate for or against a partisan political party, candidate or cause."
The directive also explains that non-active duty military members may participate in other political activities prohibited to active duty military members "provided the member is not in uniform and does not otherwise act in a manner that could reasonably give rise to the inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement."
Whether Thorsen, who reportedly has not been on active duty since October, will face disciplinary action remains to be seen. A Reserve spokeswoman was not immediately available to discuss his case.
But Thorsen's actions may be representative of a small but significant branch of military members, whose financial support gives Paul bragging rights.
Financial reporting through the end of the third quarter of 2011 shows Paul raised the third-most amount of money of Republican presidential candidates -- behind Mitt Romney and Rick Perry -- and well behind President Obama's massive take, but he has outperformed all his rivals in military donations.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Paul collected $95,567 in campaign contributions through Sept. 30, 2011, from people who list their occupation as one of the branches of the U.S. military or Defense Department -- topping every other 2012 candidate, including Obama, who raised $72,616 through that reporting period.
Paul has been lambasted by his GOP competitors for what they say is a naive approach to Iran and for other policies that rivals like Newt Gingrich say are "stunningly dangerous for the survival of the United States."
But the conservative with a libertarian streak has refused to back down from his view that the Constitution never says anything about the U.S. being "the policemen of the world."
"We're not supposed to start pre-emptive war and go in and occupy countries," he told Fox News.
Paul noted that U.S. forces agree with him, as demonstrated in their contributions.
"Just think of the soldiers. I mean, why don't they have an opinion? They have to risk their lives. And they give me more money than the rest, twice as much as all the other candidates. Why is that ignored? Don't they have a say? Shouldn't they be able to reverse ... you know, give us an opinion?
"So if you ignore that, you do it at risk because this is endless and our country is bankrupt. We can't afford it," he continued. "We didn't beat the Soviets with a nuclear war. We beat the Soviets because they were ruined economically and that's what we're on the verge of doing to ourselves."
Former Air Force pilot Jim Forsythe, now a New Hampshire state senator, told Fox Business that Paul's policies would strengthen the military even while drawing down defense spending. He added that the biggest threat to the U.S. is debt.
"I served overseas and Dr. Paul understands what a lot of people don't -- there's a big distinction between military spending and defense spending," he said. "Spending money overseas makes us weaker economically. It also does nothing to strengthen our defense, whereas having our troops here at home does that," he said.