At Least One of the Vet Charities Trump Donated to is a Borderline Scam

At Least One of the Vet Charities Trump Donated to is a Borderline Scam
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers questions during a news conference in New York, Tuesday, May 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

During the course of Trump’s angry anti-media diatribe yesterday, Trump repeatedly asserted that the reason it took until last week (coincidentally, on the same day the WaPo ran a damning story about the lies his campaign has told about the funds) for him to send out the checks to the veterans charities is not because he never intended to send the money in the first place, it’s because he and his team had to do such a good job of vetting the organizations to make sure they were doing legitimate work for veterans.

Dripping with sarcasm, Trump yelled, “When you send out checks for hundreds of thousands to these groups… [you have to make sure they are doing actual work for vets]… it’s called vetting.”

Well, the problem with deciding to hastily send out a bunch of checks after the media has embarrassed you into doing so is that you can’t do a good job of actually vetting them. And so, in less than 24 hours after releasing his list, the media has already found that one of the charities Trump donated to has… wait for it… spent more money fundraising for themselves than they have on benefitting veterans:

One of the charities that Donald Trump selected to receive a donation from his veterans’ fundraiser is a group with a rating of “F” from CharityWatch, and has been criticized in the past for spending less than half of its incoming donations on programs that help veterans.

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An examination of the group’s tax filings shows that the foundation spent just $2.4 million of its total $8 million budget on helping veterans directly in 2014.

The group spent the rest of the money in 2014 on fundraising and management expenses, with $3.5 million paid out to professional fundraising companies. Another $2 million went toward salaries and general expenses, including billing and collection services.

Those spending priorities are part of a larger pattern revealed in several years of disclosures to the IRS. Nonprofits are required to submit IRS Form 990 each year for accountability.

In 2013, the group spent just $2.5 million on veterans from its $8.1 million budget. It spent more than than $3.3 million on fundraising that year and an additional $2 million on “other expenses.”

Here’s the thing: getting this information is the easiest thing in the world. By law, any nonprofit organization is required to turn over a copy of its 990 return (you are allowed to redact donor info but the rest has to be turned over) to anyone who asks. You don’t even have to be a prospective donor to ask for this stuff. You send them a request and they have 30 days to turn it over to you, at the very least for inspection. And one of the things you have to clearly display on your 990 return if you are a nonprofit is how much you have actually spent on programs that are in accordance with your stated charitable purpose.

In other words, determining whether the veterans’ charity you are donating to spends less than 25% of their budget on actually helping vets is easy. They are actually required to hand over this information to you whether you are going to donate to them or not. It’s not even part of a rigorous vetting process, it’s the absolute first step. The rigorous vetting process begins when you ask for an explanation of what the actual veterans programs are and demand an accounting for those – which, I’m guessing, would reveal some further embarrassing information when it comes to a charity that starts by giving such a paltry amount of its budget to these programs to start with.

Now look, you can choose to believe that Trump really did intend to give this money to vets all along and that he’s just been doing vetting work for the last five months. You can choose to believe that Trump really intended to give $1M of his own money – as he repeatedly promised he had already done – and that he wasn’t simply shamed into doing it by the Washington Post last week. It’s not my job to convince anyone not to be a sucker.

But it’s not my job to be a sucker, either, and that’s why this story is going to get a whole lot worse for Trump before it’s over.

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