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“Helping The Troops?”: Conservative Military Charity Faces Serious Allegations

Any time a charity is accused of fraud, it’s alarming, but especially during a war, there’s something even more outrageous about dubious charities that claim to be helping veterans and active-duty military personnel.

Last year, for example, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, was forced to abruptly resign over her connections to something called Allied Veterans of the World. The Florida-based non-profit was accused of trying to “defraud the public and governmental agencies by misrepresenting how much of its proceeds were donated to charities affiliated with Veterans Administration.”

This year, a Tea Party affiliated group called Move America Forward, is facing allegations every bit as serious. Kim Barker’s piece in The Daily Beast raises serious questions the charity will have to answer quickly.

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.

Barker’s report raises allegations that, if true, may point to illegalities, including the possible use the charity’s funds to subsidize conservative political action committees.

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.

According to its tax returns, Move America Forward paid out more than $2.3 million – about 30% of the group’s overall expenditures – to Russo or his firm.

Barker talked to a former Tea Party Express consultant who said, “It was just so shady. With PACs, I know it’s dirty money – it’s politics. But this is a charity that’s supposed to be helping the troops.”

It’s not clear who, if anyone, is handling the day-to-day management of this charity. The organization’s former executive director left in 2012 “and does not seem to have been replaced.”

The same report goes on to detail instances in which Move America Forward falsely claimed to deliver care packages to troops, used photos in fundraising and promotional materials that belonged to other organizations, and even boasted to donors about a partnership with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that never existed.

And yet, despite all of this, Dave Weigel notes that Move America Forward benefited from testimonials from Dick Cheney, Rick Perry, Rush Limbaugh and other high-profile Republicans.

Obviously, the charges raised in this investigatory piece remain in the realm of unproven allegations. But given the evidence and seriousness of the potential wrongdoing, it’s easy to imagine law enforcement taking a keen interest in Move America Forward’s records, bank accounts, and activities.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 5, 2014

August 6, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Veterans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rick Scott Stands Alone”: No One Wants To Be The Governor’s Running Mate In 2014

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) re-election bid will be challenging. Between his poor record, weak poll numbers, and credible challenger, the Republican is going to need some help to get another four years in Tallahassee.

But if he’s hoping on getting that help from his lieutenant governor, Scott should prepare a back-up plan.

In March, an ugly scandal unfolded and Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll (R) was forced to abruptly resign from office. Though Carroll has not yet faced criminal charges, her company is accused of helping oversee a fraudulent veterans’ charity and using gambling at Internet cafes to launder money.

The governor wasn’t connected to the scandal, but it nevertheless left Scott looking for a new #2 in his administration, who can also serve as his running mate during the 2014 campaign. How’s the search going? Not well (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).

Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger on Monday formally declined Gov. Rick Scott’s offer to be considered as a possible lieutenant governor, becoming the second person on Scott’s four-person short list to turn him down.

Eslinger sent an email to his staff saying he was “flattered and honored” to be considered but that he will keep the job that he was first elected to in 1990. Last week, St. Johns County Superintendent of Schools Joseph Joyner also rejected Scott’s offer.

In case this wasn’t obvious, the Tampa Bay Times report added that the withdrawals from two of Scott’s top contenders “create the perception that no one wants to be the governor’s running mate in 2014.”

Yes, actually it does. Indeed, the Miami New Times added, “It seems almost too obvious to state that a key requirement of being lieutenant governor is actually wanting to be lieutenant governor, but that’s apparently something Gov. Rick Scott didn’t take into account during his long, dragged-out search to replace disgraced ex-Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll…. It’s not exactly good news when the two lowest-profile candidates on the list announce they have no interest in the job.”

The governor apparently had a short-list of four, which is now down to two – a state senator and a county commissioner, both of whom are from the Tampa area.

If they also decline, I’d just note that Florida has a 7% unemployment rate, so presumably the Republican governor will find someone who’s available and willing to stand alongside Rick Scott for the next five years.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 27, 2013

November 30, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Rick Scott | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Setting The Bar For Sleazoid Antics”: Florida Legislature Approves Ethics Reform — No Joke!

Promise not to laugh?

An ethics bill was passed last week in Tallahassee.

It’s no joke. The Florida Legislature unanimously approved a law designed to clean up its own sketchy act, and that of elected officials all over the state.

Gov. Rick Scott says he’s “reviewing” the bill. To veto it would be an act of profound cluelessness, but remember who we’re talking about.

The ethics legislation is significant because the concept of enforcing ethical behavior is so foreign to Florida politics. Decades of well-publicized misdeeds and flagrant conflicts of interest have failed to make a moral dent.

A few years ago, lawmakers went through the motions of establishing something called a Commission on Ethics. Most Floridians were unaware of its existence, for good reason. It was a total sham.

The panel could place monetary fines on elected officials for ethical violations, but it wasn’t empowered to collect those fines, which on paper have surpassed $1 million over the last 10 years. Nobody had to pay, so nobody took the commission seriously.

This year things changed. Senate president Don Gaetz announced that ethics reform was a top priority. His bill flew through the Senate on the very first day of the Legislative session.

The House sent it back, after some tweaking by Speaker Will Weatherford, and the new version was adopted without a dissenting vote by the full Legislature.

If Scott signs the bill into law, the Commission on Ethics will actually be able to collect the fines it imposes on wayward officeholders — even garnish their wages, if necessary.

Among other provisions, lawmakers would be banned from voting on any bills that might enhance their own personal finances. While in office, they wouldn’t be allowed to accept any government job. Once out of office, they’d be prohibited from lobbying state agencies for two years.

Such restrictions seem rather basic, even tame, until you consider that we’re basically starting from scratch. In Florida, the bar for sleazoid antics has been set very high.

The impetus for reform isn’t mysterious. As Republicans, Gaetz and Weatherford have seen their party stained by scandals.

Gaetz is from Okaloosa County, home to former House Speaker Ray Sansom. In 2010 Sansom resigned from the Legislature because of ethics complaints and an ongoing corruption probe.

Just two months ago, former GOP chairman Jim Greer pleaded guilty to five felonies, including grand theft and money laundering, in a case involving extravagant misuse of campaign funds and the party’s American Express cards.

Greer’s plea avoided an embarrassing trial that would have sent top Republican politicians to the witness stand. Having dodged that bullet, party leaders then had to watch their lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, abruptly resign after being linked to an Internet gambling cafe operation.

That company, Allied Veterans of the World, allegedly pocketed millions of dollars in charity funds that were supposed to be earmarked to help military veterans. It also donated gobs of money to the election campaigns of many Florida legislators, Republicans and Democrats.

Such headlines tend to produce a climate of fresh ethical awareness.

An interesting component of the new bill is the two-year ban on lobbying after leaving office. Traditionally, politicians who don’t want regular jobs become lobbyists when they return to private life.

House Speaker Weatherford’s predecessor, Dean Cannon, incorporated his own lobby firm a month before exiting the Legislature, and he hit the ground running. All perfectly legal, at the time.

Lots of other ex-House speakers and retired Senate bigshots are also lobbyists, schmoozing former colleagues on behalf of high-paying corporate and municipal clients. This revolving door ratifies the average voter’s cynical view of state government as a game fixed by insiders.

Although two years isn’t very long to wait between serving in public office and privately cashing in, any wait is better than what we’ve got now.

Ethics reform will be only as good as its enforcement, and history tells us not to have high hopes. This legislation is not without wiggle room and loopholes, including a provision for blind trusts that would allow officeholders to conceal the details of their wealth.

However, the bill at least puts some strong words on paper, and opens a pathway for prosecutors.

To help clarify the details and reduce the chances for future indictment, every elected official would be required to take annual ethics training.

You’re laughing again, right?

Sure, there’s something absurd about having to train a politician to be ethical. But, hey, if they can teach a cat to play the piano….

 

By: Carl Hiaason, The National Memo, April 30, 2013

May 1, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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