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Tea Party Express to Hell: Charity/Super PAC Pretends to Send Care Packages to Soldiers, While Actually Fundraising

In an exclusive for the Daily Beast, ProPublica writer Kim Barker exposes the “pro-troop” charity Move America Forward for misusing donations collected under the auspices of sending soldiers care packages.  After adopting a battalion, the Marines of Geronimo, the group started a fundraising drive claiming the care packages sent to the soldiers in Afghanistan might be “the only mail they will receive all year.”  The truth? Those Marines were stationed in Japan and the money was instead funneled to the dark money machine that runs the Tea Party:

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.

In several instances, the charity has taken images and stories from other groups and from veterans themselves without permission to use in fundraising appeals.

Last year, Move America Forward even solicited funds by claiming a partnership with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the largest hospital for wounded service members in the country. No such partnership existed, Defense Department officials say.

The charity’s funds and other assets also appear to have been used to subsidize three conservative political action committees, records show.

Beyond the obvious treachery of exploiting troops to solicit funds for political purposes, the allegations would mean the group has run afoul of IRS guidelines for charities.  Groups such as Move Forward America cannot engage in partisan politics or overly benefit their founders.  A central figure of the group is also one of the leaders of the Tea Party, according to the Daily Beast:

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.

Russo didn’t respond to questions from ProPublica. Danny Gonzalez, a spokesman for Move America Forward, did not answer questions either, instead providing a four-paragraph defense of the charity. “We are proud of the fact that we always appropriate our donor’s (sic) funds ethically and in the spirit of our mission to support the troops,” he said, adding that Move America Forward was currently preparing 2,000 boxes of care packages for shipping.

The gift grift was not the only unscrupulous act by the group, which also used false patriotic fervor to fundraise for the Move America Forward Freedom PAC before the 2012 elections. This conflict of interest between “pro-troop” charity and tea party Super PAC further demonstrates the lack of regulation which allows groups like this to freely undermine the law:

The line between Move America Forward and the Move America Forward Freedom PAC is even more blurry. The PAC’s website describes it as “a Political Action Committee organized and brought to you by Move America Forward.”

Move America Forward’s YouTube page features a campaign commercial from its sister Freedom PAC. The charity’s Facebook page links to the ad as well, and has asked people to donate to the PAC, saying “Please Help!” just days before the 2012 election.

“If the charity says, ‘Go visit our PAC and give it money’—that’s a problem,” said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a law professor and associate dean at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in nonprofits and campaign finance. “Any type of support from the charity to the PAC is problematic.…If you want to be a charity, if you want to be tax-exempt, you cannot be involved in political campaigns, you cannot support or oppose candidates for office.  And Congress says so.”

To read this long read investigative report in its entirety visit The Daily Beast.

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