Any time a charity is accused of fraud, it’s alarming, but especially during a war, there’s something even more outrageous about dubious charities that claim to be helping veterans and active-duty military personnel.
Last year, for example, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, was forced to abruptly resign over her connections to something called Allied Veterans of the World. The Florida-based non-profit was accused of trying to “defraud the public and governmental agencies by misrepresenting how much of its proceeds were donated to charities affiliated with Veterans Administration.”
This year, a Tea Party affiliated group called Move America Forward, is facing allegations every bit as serious. Kim Barker’s piece in The Daily Beast raises serious questions the charity will have to answer quickly.
Move America Forward calls itself the nation’s “largest grassroots pro-troop organization,” and has recruited a bevy of Republican luminaries, including former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, to support its efforts.Yet an examination of its fundraising appeals, tax records and other documents shows that Move America Forward has repeatedly misled donors and inflated its charitable accomplishments, while funneling millions of dollars in revenue to the men behind the group and their political consulting firms.
Barker’s report raises allegations that, if true, may point to illegalities, including the possible use the charity’s funds to subsidize conservative political action committees.
The driving force behind Move America Forward is Sal Russo, 67, the longtime political consultant who is listed on the 10-year-old charity’s tax returns as chief strategist.Russo is better known for helping to form the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, also known as the Tea Party Express, one of the largest Tea Party groups in the country. Consultants from his Sacramento-based firm, Russo, Marsh and Associates, also set up two other PACs, the Move America Forward Freedom PAC and the Conservative Campaign Committee, to aid conservative causes and candidates.
According to its tax returns, Move America Forward paid out more than $2.3 million – about 30% of the group’s overall expenditures – to Russo or his firm.
Barker talked to a former Tea Party Express consultant who said, “It was just so shady. With PACs, I know it’s dirty money – it’s politics. But this is a charity that’s supposed to be helping the troops.”
It’s not clear who, if anyone, is handling the day-to-day management of this charity. The organization’s former executive director left in 2012 “and does not seem to have been replaced.”
The same report goes on to detail instances in which Move America Forward falsely claimed to deliver care packages to troops, used photos in fundraising and promotional materials that belonged to other organizations, and even boasted to donors about a partnership with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that never existed.
And yet, despite all of this, Dave Weigel notes that Move America Forward benefited from testimonials from Dick Cheney, Rick Perry, Rush Limbaugh and other high-profile Republicans.
Obviously, the charges raised in this investigatory piece remain in the realm of unproven allegations. But given the evidence and seriousness of the potential wrongdoing, it’s easy to imagine law enforcement taking a keen interest in Move America Forward’s records, bank accounts, and activities.