The VoteVets.org group that attacked Donald Trump last week as a “cheap fraud” receives millions of dollars from six unions to support two employees and no volunteers.
Jon Soltz, Co-founder and Chairman of VoteVets.org, tried to create a scandal by telling CNN and MSNBC that his organization of over 400,000 “Veterans, military families, and civilian supporters” believed Republican Donald Trump was a “cheap fraud” for skipping a January 28 Republican debate and then claiming he raised up to $6 million for Veterans’ groups.
But at a June 1 press conference surrounded by well-known Veterans leaders, Trump detailed the $5.6 million raised through the event and which groups had received checks.
In a 40-minute news conference, Trump criticized reporters generally, and insulted some specifically, as “not good people” and “sleazy” for publishing rumors stirred up by organizations like VoteVets.
Following the contentious media event, the non-partisan OpenSecrets Blog reviewed tax documents for VoteVets Action Fund illuminating that the group spent $3.6 million in the 2014 mid-term elections supporting Democratic candidates or opposing Republicans.
Despite VoteVets reporting only 26 contributors donating $8,681 in the 2016 election cycle, Federal Election Commission filings reveal that VoteVets Action Fund, with just two employees and no volunteers, spent $7.6 million from July 2014 through June 2015.
OpenSecrets commented that “Social welfare organizations like VoteVets are not supposed to be primarily political, though neither the IRS nor the FEC has shown an appetite for policing them.”
Since its founding in 2006, VoteVets has been one of “the highest spending liberal nonprofit active in federal elections. The hitherto unknown organization spent more than the “combined spending of much more prominent politically active groups on the left, like NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Sierra Club.”
Because 501(c) social welfare organizations do not have to disclose who their donors are, OpenSecrets refers to them as “dark money” outfits that are “attractive vehicles for contributors with a strong desire to influence politics but just as powerful an impetus to remain in the shadows.”
OpenSecrets found that “VoteVets newest tax return displays all of the main hallmarks of a political organization using its 501(c) status as a way to avoid donor disclosure. By far the largest outlays it reports were related to political activity.”
In the section of VoteVets’ tax returns that lists payments to its highest paid outside contractors, “four of the five companies listed — Waterfront Strategies, Buying Time LLC, Sway and Prism Communications — are the same political media firms VoteVets used for the political ads it reported to the FEC. Payments to these four firms came to more than $6.5 million, or 86 percent of Vote Vets overall expenditures.”
Vote Vets gave $50,000 to the 501(c)(4) arm of American Bridge 21st Century, a group now run by pro-Clinton operative David Brock, which specializes in churning out opposition research on Republican candidates.
The $3.6 million VoteVets spent in 2014 on politically charged ads is also substantially more than the $3 million VoteVets told the IRS it spent on political expenditures during the year. OpenSecrets questions whether VoteVets is “very close to breaking the de facto 50 percent limit on political spending by 501(c)(4) groups.”
VoteVets claimed that in 2014 none of its money came from “donors giving seven-figure checks.” But in 2010, 82 percent of its $10.8 million in contributions came from large “dark money” nonprofits that support liberal causes, including Alliance for Climate Protection, Partnership Action Fund, Sierra Club, and the NRDC Action Fund.
One of VoteVets’ largest known donors over the last few years has been the liberal “America Votes,” a social welfare organization that self-describes itself as “coordination hub of the progressive community.” AV gave $775,000 to Vote Vets since 2011, including $50,000 in 2014.
OpenSecrets adds that according to Department of Labor data, six unions have fueled VoteVets in recent years. “Contributors include the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, AFL-CIO account for nearly a fifth of VoteVets’ revenue over two years, and — giving lie to the idea that VoteVets is meant to be anything but a political entity — almost all of the unions described the purpose of the contributions as ‘political activities.’”