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"...this is a charity that's supposed to be helping the troops."
August 6, 2014 10:28 PM   Subscribe

ProPublica reports: Pro-Troop Charity Misleads Donors While Lining Political Consultants' Pockets.
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.
...
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.

Russo and his associates have previously drawn attention for lavishing funds raised through the committees on themselves, using this money on an Alaskan cruise and fancy hotels as well as paying themselves huge consulting fees.
...
Charities like Move America Forward, which accept tax-deductible donations, are not allowed to engage in partisan politics like other nonprofits, such as trade associations and social-welfare groups. Charities are also not allowed to pay excessive fees or wages to staffers or consultants, according to federal tax rules.

But an examination of Move America Forward's tax returns shows that it is deeply intertwined with Russo's political enterprises and businesses, paying millions of dollars to him and his consulting firm.

According to its five most recent tax returns, Move America Forward paid out more than $2.3 million to Russo or Russo, Marsh and Associates for services including "program management and advertising." That's about 30 percent of the charity's overall expenditures over that time.

"It was just so shady," said Kelly S. Eustis, a former consultant for the Tea Party Express, also known as Our Country Deserves Better. "With PACs, I know it's dirty money—it's politics. But this is a charity that's supposed to be helping the troops."
Additional coverage and commentary from Slate, The Daily Caller, and Salon.
posted by tonycpsu (47 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
The whole PAC system has become a legalized bribery industry, no shock it's full of grifters.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:34 PM on August 6 [7 favorites]


Sure, but it seems pretty notable that a 501(c)(3) charity is doing something like this, not a PAC.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:37 PM on August 6 [8 favorites]


Do you get the same tax write-off for a PAC donation as for a charity?
posted by viggorlijah at 10:46 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Conservative fundraisers harvesting their grassroots and pocketing the money - same as it ever was. The scam ratio was always quite high. But what's the harm? Conservative dittoheads waste their money lining the pockets of these grifters - at least less ends up flowing into harmful political action. Deplete their resources - a win.

Meanwhile, the "troops" should be funded through taxes, and not have to rely on charity. Can't afford it? Then cut down on the military - at least there'll be less temptation to start unnecessary wars. Win - win.

Far from being outraged, I hope they can scam even more. Bleed 'em dry.
posted by VikingSword at 10:57 PM on August 6 [5 favorites]


Without names, so as to avoid endorsements/self-promotion:
I have several books on Amazon, and I decided (and put on my blog & such) that anything I make off of one title for this month will go to a particular veterans' charity. I did my research. I'm confident that I made a good choice.

And here I am, already looking at a donation of the kind of money I could live on for a month with 3.5 weeks left to go, and just... I'll admit that part of me can't let go of this dreadful expectation that I'll see some horrible story about the whole charity just being a front for a dog-fighting ring or an anti-[insert minority] group or something. Seems 100% impossible, except for all the other big charities that have disappointed me in the last couple decades.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:00 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


So. If I understand what yer sayin', it seems that so-called "charities" are exploiting patriotism for nefarious means? And that those paragons of virtue, Dick Cheney and the Bushes, are enthusiastically wallowing at this festering trough? Well, this is my shocked face.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:03 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]


This is despicable. It really frosts me that these guys should be paying themselves millions meant for the troops when a similar, but legit, charity, Any Soldier, Inc. failed to meet its modest fundraising goal by a wide margin for the second year in a row. Any Soldier isn't even rated by Charity Navigator because it's too small. If you are interested in supporting the troops through letters of support or care packages, I hope you will have a look at Any Soldier. It allows you to do what these guys purport to do, without the grift.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 11:03 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Previously on MeFi: Scammers taking advantage of right wing media mailing lists.
posted by PenDevil at 11:23 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


The entire modern conservative movement is a mail fraud scam.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:54 PM on August 6 [30 favorites]


Far from being outraged, I hope they can scam even more. Bleed 'em dry.

Except, no. No, no good will ultimately come of this. For money is power, and I'd rather see it in the hands of honest conservatives than fundamentally dishonest ones, who will be less likely to play by any sort of rules or proprietary in terms of its use, especially in this post Citizens United nation.
posted by JHarris at 12:23 AM on August 7 [5 favorites]


The entire modern conservative movement is a mail fraud scam.

High weirdness by mail, indeed.
posted by daq at 12:31 AM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Conservative dittoheads waste their money lining the pockets of these grifters - at least less ends up flowing into harmful political action.

I'd venture that exactly this kind of thing is the harmful political action. A slush fund for political creeps who don't operate in the open, and at a large scale.

I'm the optimistic kind that thinks everyone wants things to get better, and even if I don't agree with someone through and through, shit like this just saps the resources of people who might otherwise choose differently, who might give their money to people who actually want to help veterans in a way other than just creating more of them. Call it the funneling of power to the same old assholes, which I don't think anybody necessarily wants, even if they don't agree with me.

Put it this way, the money might have gone to any number of smaller organizations that would cause progress for decent reasons that never occur to me. That would be a win, but that money is going to who knows what, but not those things (and barely even to veterans).
posted by rhizome at 1:08 AM on August 7 [5 favorites]


Far from being outraged, I hope they can scam even more. Bleed 'em dry.

The problem is, that in a third world country unable or unwilling to treat its veterans with the care they deserve for having participated in its dirty and unnecessary wars, this sort of abuse doesn't hurt either the grifters or their "victims" (who, I bet, are largely in on the scam) but rather those veterans who have to depend on these handouts being real to survive.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:56 AM on August 7


Between things like this and huge vanity projects, I'm starting to think that the nonprofit tax deduction should just be eliminated. Scammers gonna scam, but there's no need for their scamming to be encouraged via the tax code.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:55 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Do you really think those two categories actually make up anything close to the majority of nonprofits in the US, snickerdoodle? That's really very similar equivalence to saying that because a few people have committed welfare fraud, we shouldn't have welfare. Absolutely not trying to argue that there aren't some total bastards out there posing as nonprofits, but there's also a lot of very good things in the world that are enabled by nonprofit organizations.
posted by Sequence at 4:43 AM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Donations to PACs are not tax deductible.
posted by postel's law at 5:09 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


No, most nonprofits aren't corrupt. But it doesn't mean they're necessary. There are 1.5 million nonprofits in the US. How many of them are actually doing something uniquely necessary and effectively? And given that most people below a certain income threshold don't itemize, what exactly are we saying when we offer that deduction without caps? Should we be subsidizing giving for families making over $200k while squeezing services for those who need them? Does Harvard, for example, really need us subsidizing their endowment? Here's a one attempt at analysis.

I work for a nonprofit that I passionately believe in. I really think it will change the world. But I also think that many of its functions would be better handled by governments, and I know that most of our donors don't get the deduction. I'm sure it's part of the calculus for our large donors, but it's a low-level consideration in their decision to support us.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:40 AM on August 7 [3 favorites]


postel's law: Donations to PACs are not tax deductible.

No, but donations to 501(c)4 "social welfare" organizations that can participate in elections are, as was famously discussed in this Colbert Report segment.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:54 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


No, but donations to 501(c)4 "social welfare" organizations that can participate in elections are, as was famously discussed in this Colbert Report segment.

And coincidentally or otherwise, the ginned up "scandal" over the IRS taking time to consider whether so-called "social welfare" groups that seemed to promote a political agenda -- conservative or liberal -- were entitled to their special status or just running a scam will no doubt have a chilling effect over strict enforcement of the law.
posted by Gelatin at 6:07 AM on August 7 [5 favorites]


Charles Pierce:
Glorioski, you don't think that the howls raised over the phony IRS "scandal" regarding the tax-exempt status of various wingnut "social-welfare" groups, and the subsequent attempts to defang the IRS's ability to enforce what campaign finance-regulations are left, might have less to do with freedom and liberty than they do with keeping a profitable network of bunco artists humming behind the scenes, do you?
posted by TedW at 6:11 AM on August 7 [6 favorites]


No, but donations to 501(c)4 "social welfare" organizations that can participate in elections are

Donations to 501c4 orgs are not deductible.
posted by jpe at 6:58 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


jpe: Donations to 501c4 orgs are not deductible.

Yes, you're right. They're tax-exempt, but donations aren't deductible. Thanks for correcting me on that.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:02 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


I once dated the daughter of a Republican activist and she said: non-profits -- that's where the real money is.
posted by goethean at 7:20 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:38 AM on August 7


Agreed, hence my visceral distaste for the current debate over corporate inversion being couched in terms of patriotism.

At any rate, it's interesting that the article intimates that the org was audited by the IRS. This sort of misrepresentation issue probably falls under the purview of the state AG, though, and their oversight is often fairly lax.
posted by jpe at 7:47 AM on August 7


Sure, but it seems pretty notable that a 501(c)(3) charity is doing something like this, not a PAC.

I only wish. The nonprofit rabbit hole goes pretty far. This is corb's sad lack of surprise and bitter exhaustion.
posted by corb at 8:27 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


By all means, fill us in on other examples similar in scale and scope to this one.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:33 AM on August 7


I mean, "charity wastes donor money" is a dog bites man story, as is "political group wastes donor money", but "charity wastes donor money, falsifies fundraising appeals with stock photography, and funnels millions in donations to a political consultant who founded one of the major Tea Party groups" seems pretty "man bites dog."
posted by tonycpsu at 8:34 AM on August 7 [6 favorites]


This is a bit of a tangent, but if you are looking for other "charities" that aren't very charitable: The Tampa Bay Times did a special on America's Worst Charities a year or two ago.

TL;DR: Some charities exist to enrich the charity managers and fundraising telemarketing companies.
posted by ensign_ricky at 8:36 AM on August 7 [3 favorites]


By all means, fill us in on other examples similar in scale and scope to this one.

I can't offhand. The scale is certainly high for this one. But because I live in the nonprofit veterans world, and have handled incoming donations, I am equally disheartened when veterans charities waste a million dollars as when they waste a mere 40K. This is money sometimes from little old ladies, writing apologetically that they couldn't give more because they only receive social security and their medical bills are high. Money from teenagers who want to do something right. Money from working joes who don't have a lot of money themselves but are touched by something. Crumpled one dollar bills mailed in with poorly spelled but sincere notes. And so when I see people just tossing it in the air for funsies, it always bothers me and makes me sad and bitter.
posted by corb at 8:49 AM on August 7 [5 favorites]


OK. I agree that any waste of donor money to charity is bad, but the scale does matter, as does whether the waste was accidental or whether it was just a grifter trying to line his pockets and further his political agenda. Hence the post.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:56 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


By all means, fill us in on examples of donor money being wasted "accidentally."
posted by rhizome at 9:25 AM on August 7


Uh, is it not obvious that charities can't always make the most optimal spending decisions given what they know at the time? I'm merely distinguishing good-faith mistakes in purchasing, research funding, etc. from obvious cases of graft like this one. Didn't think that would be controversial.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:40 AM on August 7


Conservative dittoheads waste their money lining the pockets of these grifters - at least less ends up flowing into harmful political action.

...

I'd venture that exactly this kind of thing is the harmful political action. A slush fund for political creeps who don't operate in the open, and at a large scale.

No. It is exactly as I described. The money is not diverted to a "slush fund" that goes to any political action. It goes to lavish salaries for the fraudsters and to quote the article "Russo and his associates have previously drawn attention for lavishing funds raised through the committees on themselves, using this money on an Alaskan cruise and fancy hotels as well as paying themselves huge consulting fees." They were certainly inefficient (to hide the grift) "'program management and advertising'[...] that's about 30 percent of the charity's overall expenditures over that time."

That's not money flowing to political action. It flows to carnies for cruises and caviar. This is conservative money being wasted - look to whom this was designed to appeal to and who endorsed it. That $50 conservative check? That went into the paying for the cruise, and that's $50 less the conservative has to spend on political action. Win.

Look, it's corruption, pure and simple. "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake" - N.B., a soldier. Would you prefer your enemy to be efficient, or corrupt and inefficient? I prefer the latter. I'd rather Russo and his ilk wasted conservative money, instead of being efficient political operatives. Call me crazy! Russo is a dedicated waster of conservative money in all his political fundraising ventures? Put that man in charge (of conservative causes)! You want the other side to promote the worst, most corrupt and wasteful. I hope he fleeces them all.

The problem is, that in a third world country unable or unwilling to treat its veterans with the care they deserve for having participated in its dirty and unnecessary wars, this sort of abuse doesn't hurt either the grifters or their "victims" (who, I bet, are largely in on the scam) but rather those veterans who have to depend on these handouts being real to survive.

No, it is exactly as I stated. The military should not rely on charity. They should be funded honestly, from taxes, so that the costs are clear and the political price is consciously paid. It is wrong and harmful to waste billions of dollars and start wars on false pretenses, and then hide the true cost by papering over it with momentary charity - the cost should be visible to all. Those veterans are cheated by this system and we should not enable that cheating by shouldering that cost and shielding those responsible from the political fallout. That's exactly what allows this to go on. Rather I'd prefer to see the political, social and financial cost plain and out in the open - at least then, there would be a chance at political change, so lets have another Bonus Army in Washington.

And while we are at it, why are we on the left allowing the narrative of patently false "patriotism" to obscure what is really going on? The very same false "patriotism" that's being used to fleece society in more ways than merely financial. So perhaps we should not slavishly follow the right in the false adulation of the modern military apparatus as it functions today in actual reality, never mind long ago ideals. It has long since transitioned from legitimate defense of the country, to a tool of imperial subjugation the world over. Nobody is being dragooned into Werhmacht. It's a conscious choice, and poor job prospects are not an excuse any more than joining Pinkerton strikebreakers was an excuse because they got paid. That false patriotism narrative needs to be exposed and an honest discussion should ensue. Let the true motivations and true costs be accounted for.
posted by VikingSword at 9:52 AM on August 7 [5 favorites]


A real patriot doesn't mind getting ripped off
posted by Renoroc at 11:32 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


By all means, fill us in on examples of donor money being wasted "accidentally."

Well, a good example of this is: business lunches are occasionally necessary. But is it really necessary to go to the fanciest bar and order a billion drinks? If you're putting your staff up, do you have to put them at the swankiest hotel? No one's trying to anything illicit, but at the same time, that's hardly what the small donors thought their money would be used for.
posted by corb at 11:35 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


A real patriot doesn't mind getting ripped off

Indeed, it seems like the donors in this case are just asking for it. Look what is used to appeal to this particular donor set: endorsements by Dick Cheney and G.W. Bush - you know, the guys who lied us into a monstrous war that resulted in thousands of our troops killed and countless more wounded, and lives disrupted. All based on utter lies. Yeah, those guys are now asking you to send money to those veterans whom they sent into that hell based on lies. And on the flip side, it's those very guys whose governing philosophy is to cut back on government services everywhere they can, including veteran services, and have proven that repeatedly when in power. Send them into the meatgrinder on false premises, and then kick them off when they need help. Those guys. It just boggles the mind.

You'd think that was just an oversight? No, it's like the 419 scam. People think that it's just clumsiness that those emails all feature horrible grammar and outlandishly implausible appeals, but that is exactly the opposite - that's entirely 100% by design, because they, correctly, figure that if you fall for that level of implausibility and red flags, your powers of discernment are exactly what they want, you are the target audience, and all that implausibility acts as a filter to select the ideal mark. If you roll your eyes at an email promising $10,000,000 TEN MILLION DOLLARS, you are exactly whom they don't want to waste their time on - you leave them in peace, and the only ones who contact them are their true targets.

Look at the conservative sites, chain emails and newsletters and fundraising. See the pattern? Just like the 419 scams, they are filled with outlandish lies, outrageous 'arguments', and plastered with ads for the dumbest scam products and services of such disrepute that only their true believer kool-aid drinkers stick around.

That's the function of having Dick Cheney and GW headline an appeal for donations to veterans. It was designed as a scam from the ground up. Who is going to pick a veteran's charity that's endorsed by the likes of those people? It's like putting a big fat image of a fox on an invitation to a house party for chickens. Only the dumbest chickens are going to turn up, the ones easiest to catch with the least effort.

And that's how we get to a Mr. Russo. He's just a garden variety con man and chiseler. His victims are a self-selected crowd it's hard to feel sorry for. The 419 scam "victim" is happy to cheat an African country of inheritance tax money on that "deceased prince's fortune" (if one were to take the lies of 419 at face value) - because that's what is the bargain struck between the scammer and the mark. Using "patriotism" as a code word of infinite elasticity is a prominent feature of these conservative appeals, which you can easily stretch to encompass all sorts agendas. The less efficient and more scammy they are, the better for the rest of us.
posted by VikingSword at 12:02 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


VikingSword, it is corruption yes, but that doesn't mean the money is "wasted," in terms of harmful effect, either. Money spent doesn't vanish, it flows around the system, probably to cronies who are also pretty politically suspect.

Between things like this and huge vanity projects, I'm starting to think that the nonprofit tax deduction should just be eliminated. Scammers gonna scam, but there's no need for their scamming to be encouraged via the tax code.

Recently some waves were made here in Brunswick when a charity famous in the area for setting up in front of grocery stores with signs reading (in distasteful fancy italics, considering the sadness of the condition) It's time to feed the children! turned out, not to be feeding kids, but instead building mansions with that money. I've personally stood out in front of a grocery store alongside them holding a wobbleboard for Dominos. At least they had tables to sit in front of. I'm given to wonder now if the people sitting there were in on the scam or were duped along with everyone else.
posted by JHarris at 12:06 PM on August 7


VikingSword, it is corruption yes, but that doesn't mean the money is "wasted," in terms of harmful effect, either. Money spent doesn't vanish, it flows around the system, probably to cronies who are also pretty politically suspect.

But that's exactly what it is: wasted. Unless you regard Alaskan cruises, vacations, and dining in the finest establishments as political acts. They're paying themselves fat salaries and living high off the hog - and every penny that goes to that, which it overwhelmingly does - is exactly, the precise definition of waste. No money is going to "cronies" who subsequently funnel it to some political candidate or another in some efficient, or even inefficient manner - the only cronie it might go to is one who enables more scams. Have you read up on this? I have. Huge percentages of the donations go to marketing and list generation designed solely and entirely to cultivating and finding more marks, so as to increase the scam return potential. The actual money that trickles down to political action is minute in comparison. Extreme inefficiency - which is the way I like it in this case. Heck, I think the DNC should consider putting Russo on salary with matching bonus bumps for each landmark of inefficiency reached.
posted by VikingSword at 12:23 PM on August 7


I'm sure a little schadenfreude is in order, but to say not only that it shouldn't be questioned, but actively encouraged make you sound like a concern troll. There will always be more than enough slimy assholes willing to fleece idiots without anyone advocating that they be protected from consequences.
posted by stavrogin at 4:27 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Obviously, I was speaking tongue in cheek wrt. supporting the grifters, as is quite clear from the context. I was emphasizing my main point, which was that in this case, no great harm is being done to progressive causes, quite the opposite. Btw. "concern troll" is a bizarre term to use here - what exactly would make me look like a concern troll in this thread, considering that I'm expressing zero concern for anything - Urban Dictionary:

"A person who posts on a blog thread, in the guise of "concern," to disrupt dialogue or undermine morale by pointing out that posters and/or the site may be getting themselves in trouble, usually with an authority or power. They point out problems that don't really exist. The intent is to derail, stifle, control, the dialogue. It is viewed as insincere and condescending.
A concern troll on a progressive blog might write, "I don't think it's wise to say things like that because you might get in trouble with the government." Or, "This controversy is making your side look disorganized."
"

Not applicable in the least.
posted by VikingSword at 4:47 PM on August 7


Scroll down a little. 2nd definition on the link you posted. "In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with "concerns"."

An example: "I'm a hardcore liberal and I love the govt, but I think we should let these guys fleece people because it doesn't harm us progressives."

The context is that you wrote 8500+ words to say "meh, let's not do anything." If that was tongue-in-cheek, may want to look up the word brevity. Also, look up tongue-in-cheek while you're googling words.
posted by stavrogin at 5:22 PM on August 7


Sorry, that's not going to fly. Not only is it still not applicable, you are misrepresenting the definition - here the point 2 quoted in full:

"In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with "concerns". The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you're an ally. Concern trolls who use fake identities are sometimes known as sockpuppets."

The heart of the definition is (1) pretending to be on one side of the political position while in fact being on the other side, and (2) pretending to be "concerned" by some made up objection. I have expressed zero concern about anything, nor have I written anything that can be remotely characterized as in fact being on the other (conservative) side. Total definitional fail.

Further, you misrepresent my position:

"I'm a hardcore liberal and I love the govt, but I think we should let these guys fleece people because it doesn't harm us progressives."

Note, even if that were true, it fails the definition, as it expresses no "concern". FYI, being a liberal, hardcore or otherwise does not imply that one "loves the government", nor have I said or implied that "I love the government" either in this thread or anywhere else. My position was extremely clear - progressive causes are not harmed by these practices. I made *clearly* joking references to encouraging these grifters - but even so, that has absolutely nothing to do with liberalism. As to brevity, yes I favor it - unless I'm compelled to at length dispel clear misrepresentations, such as yours of what a "concern troll" means, among other things. And it is you who would benefit from googling the meaning of words.
posted by VikingSword at 6:34 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


VikingSword, I get what you're saying, and I understand the sentiment. But I just can't bring myself to appreciate waste, in any form, when it comes to money, this kind of thing usually produces negative effects other than just wasting the money.
posted by JHarris at 9:25 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Well, you're right of course, it's hard to feel good about grifters thriving, regardless of whose ox is being gored.
posted by VikingSword at 10:12 PM on August 7


Shouldn’t We Laugh When Right Wing Groups Rip Off Tea Partiers?
posted by tonycpsu at 9:07 AM on August 9


I don't want to laugh, I just get frustrated. It's the same as when you manage to convince someone that some aspect of global warming denialism or anti-vaxx talking points are obvious, provable lies...but they remain deniers even if you get them to see one of the lies.

I just want to, and sometimes do, scream at them, "Why do you think it is they have to lie to you so much? Why won't you apply critical thought to the rest of this facade on your own?!"

Eh, people believe what they want to believe. I guess I eventually do start laughing if they are bullheaded enough to put a mental deathgrip on the false beliefs. Conservatives are the kings of not being able to take the shit they dish out though so it's often not any fun when they quickly get offended.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:02 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


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