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.Additional coverage and commentary from Slate, The Daily Caller, and Salon.
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."
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