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“Organization Has Just One Member”: ‘Veterans For A Strong America’ Draws Scrutiny

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump hasn’t offered much in the way of policy speeches since launching his campaign, so it was of great interest this week when Team Trump announced plans for a major foreign-policy speech, delivered from a decommissioned battleship. If you’ve watched the show this week, however, you know the speech didn’t quite live up to its billing.

Right off the bat, Trump’s speech on matters of national security had very little to do with national security. There weren’t even any references to ISIS. Military Times published a report noting that the remarks “featured few new ideas for military policy or Veterans Affairs reform but plenty of promises to crack down on illegal immigration and ‘make our country great again.’”

The GOP frontrunner did, however, vow to “come out with some plans in a very short time,” which struck an odd note given that this was supposed to be a speech about Trump’s plans.

And while all of this matters – presidential candidates with vague platforms who promise to deliver a major address on foreign policy should keep that promise – it’s not the most interesting part of the story.

As it turns out, the event aboard the USS Iowa was less of a campaign speech and more of a fundraiser for a group called “Veterans for a Strong America” – an organization that Trump claims represents “hundreds of thousands of veterans.”

As best as we can tell, Veterans for a Strong America does not, however, have a sizable membership base. In fact, as Rachel noted on the show on Wednesday, the group does not appear to have any members at all.

What’s more, the organization staff itself appears to consist of just one individual: Joel Arends of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

And Joel Arends of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has quite a political background.

In the 2014 election cycle, he worked with a Republican U.S. Senate candidate who was recently convicted on election-related crimes – which the candidate blames on advice she received from Joel Arends.

Arends’ group has also been under investigation by two Arizona agencies for alleged election irregularities. Arends is also facing allegations in Texas of being involved in a super PAC scam.

And just in case that weren’t quite enough, the Associated Press published this report Wednesday:

The Internal Revenue Service revoked the nonprofit status of the veterans benefit organization that hosted and sold tickets to a foreign policy speech by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump aboard a retired U.S. battleship, The Associated Press has learned. The group’s endorsement of Trump at the event also could raise legal problems under campaign finance laws.

So, taken together, this story raises some questions that deserve answers. A political operative facing some legal scrutiny appears to be the sole official at a group, Veterans for a Strong America, which, according to the IRS, has lost its nonprofit status for failing to file tax returns. And yet, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination headlined a fundraiser for the group this week – the organization sold tickets to Trump’s event for up to $1,000 a piece – and repeated a claim about the group’s dubious membership. How did this happen, exactly?

As Rachel concluded, it now seems as if the Trump campaign “is either in on some kind of scheme with this group that is not a non-profit, or Donald Trump and his campaign got duped and taken for a ride by a guy who, you could suss out pretty easily, with literally one page of Googling and 30 spare seconds. In either instance, that is the kind of base-level failure in a presidential campaign that doesn’t bode well for the long-term viability of that candidate – just in terms of the basic functions of what it takes to run.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 18, 2015

September 21, 2015 - Posted by | Campaign Financing, Donald Trump, Veterans for A Strong America | , , , , ,

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