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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 | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unpatriotic And Treasonous”: The Secretive Group Trying To Swift Boat Barack Obama

A secretive right-wing group, Veterans For A Strong America, is attempting to do to President Obama what the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth did to Sen. John Kerry in 2004. And they aren’t shy about it. The group’s leader and sole employee, Joel Arends, told Mother Jones, “Yes, it’s the swift boating of the president.”

Arends said his goal is to take “what’s perceived to be [Obama’s] greatest strength” — the successful raid on Osama Bin Laden’s Pakistani compound — and make it “his greatest weakness.” The effort started this week with a web video attacking Obama for taking too much credit.

In an interview with ThinkProgress, Arends refused to discuss any information regarding how the group was financed or its leadership. Arends also declined to provide legal forms he claims to have filed with the IRS. A representative from the IRS told ThinkProgress that the agency does not have any forms from Arends’ group on file.

Here’s what we do know about Arends and Veterans For A Strong America:

1. In four days, the first ad by Veterans For A Strong America garnered almost 1 million views on Youtube. It has also been played frequently on TV news shows. [YouTube, 5/1/12]

2. Veterans For A Strong America is seeking to recruit Navy SEALS to attack Obama. “In the wake of a warm conservative reception for a web video trashing the president for ‘spiking the football’ on the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s death, the conservative group Veterans for a Strong America plans to gather Navy SEALs and Special Forces operators to criticize the White House during the 2012 campaign.” [BuzzFeed, 5/3/12]

3. Arends also tried to Swift Boat Obama in 2008. Arends, under the auspices of a similar group called “Vets for Freedom,” ran an ad accusing Obama of refusing to meet with wounded soldiers from Illinois. [NPR, 7/5/08]

4. Arends worked as a consultant for the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. “Though he doesn’t list it on his public resume, around 2006 Arends went to work for Craig Dewey, the state director of Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy outfit that’s Astroturfed everything from the tea party and the Wisconsin union fight to public-school segregation.” The Koch Brothers and their allies have pledged to spend $100 million to defeat Obama. [Mother Jones, 5/4/12; HuffingtonPost, 2/3/12]

5. In 2008, Arends — posing as a “journalist” — organized and participated in a taxpayer-subsidized propaganda trip to Iraq. “American taxpayers are paying for politically slanted, pro-McCain, anti-Obama ‘reporters’ embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq. Vets for Freedom – a pro-war organization that buys attack ads against Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama – assembled a team of eight military veterans with dubious journalistic credentials to report ‘objectively’ on what is occurring in Iraq…Joel Arends, another “reporter,” is VFF’s executive director and was on McCain’s campaign payroll between March 2007 and February 2008.” [Charleston Gazette, 8/28/08]

6. Arends is coordinating with key Islamophobic figures on the far right. He regularly appears at events with anti-Islam conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, who has been condemned by mainstream conservatives for his intolerant views. He is also alligned with William “Jerry” Boykin, who was found to have violated Pentagon rules by expressing his anti-Muslim views in an official capacity. [ThinkProgress, 2/12/12; For The Common Defense; New York Times, 3/4/05]

7. Arends helped promote a documentary advocating war with Iran. Arends appeared on a panel in March 2011 in South Dakota promoting the documentary Iranium, which strongly suggests beginning a war with Iran. [Flier; ThinkProgress, 11/3/11]

8. Veterans for A Strong America is fully endorsed by Karl Rove. The man known as “Bush’s Brain” tweeted his support of their first web ad. [Twitter, 5/3/12]

Veterans For A Strong America is already succeeding in influencing the political discussion. Its web ad was aired nationally, for free, on ABC’s This Week. Many members of the political round-table then echoed Arends talking points on Obama and Bin Laden.

 

By: Judd Legum and Adam Peck, Think Progress, May 6, 2012

May 7, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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