Weston Wamp used video footage shot at Chattanooga National Cemetery for two political ads without permission, prompting the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to send a cease-and-desist letter to his congressional campaign.
Titled "Congratulations Congress," the ad ran for several days on Chattanooga television stations. It stopped airing earlier this month, but remained online. Wamp removed the ad from YouTube after a Veterans Affairs official contacted his campaign Thursday.
"It's a two-second shot of something people drive by every day," Wamp said. "It didn't occur to me as something that would be seen by anybody as inappropriate."
Federal regulations prohibit "photographs for advertising or commercial purposes" taken at Veterans Affairs cemeteries unless written consent is granted. Neither Wamp nor Fancy Rhino, the Chattanooga-based company that produced the ads, asked permission before using an image that included a dead man's name.
Wamp said he used the headstone shots in an ad about the national debt because "debt dishonors our past."
The ad features a brief shot of hundreds of graves, including the clearly visible headstone of Carlos Cain, a World War I veteran from Tennessee who died in 1970. Wamp and Fancy Rhino creative director Isaiah Smallman said they never approached Cain's family.
Smallman and Wamp said they didn't realize Cain's name was in the shot until Veterans Affairs officials notified them.
"It was an oversight," Smallman said.
Cain's family could not be located Friday.
"I deeply respect and admire sacrifice, and clearly those tombstones represent sacrifices," Wamp said. "We're the first to admit there was obviously a small mistake made."
Roger Gray, assistant regional counsel for the Department of Veterans Affairs, confirmed the cease-and-desist letter. He said that as long as the Wamp campaign doesn't use other VA cemetery footage, there will be no further consequence.
A separate, online-only Wamp ad, titled "Generations," also incorporates footage from the National Cemetery, but no names are visible. Smallman and Wamp said they would review the ad and comply with any Veterans Affairs request.
Other candidates for the GOP nomination are incumbent Chuck Fleischmann, Ron Bhalla and Scottie Mayfield. Democrats Mary Headrick and Bill Taylor are campaigning for the Democratic nod. Independent Matthew Deniston also is running.
Early voting continues through July 28 for the Aug. 2 primary.