Move America Forward responds to Pro Publica report

posted at 6:41 pm on August 5, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Earlier today, ProPublica published a rather damning report about the charitable organization Move America Forward (MAF), which organizes the annual Troopathons and has delivered “hundreds of tons” of care packages to men and women of the armed forces on the front lines of America’s battles. Over the years, celebrities from the political and entertainment industries have participated in fundraisers and donated their own cash, as have bloggers such as myself and many others who have given time and/or cash for this effort. Allegations that a significant percentage of those donations went to for-profit companies run by people affiliated with Tea Party Express raised questions about ethics and transparency.

When the article emerged, I reached out to MAF for a response. Danny Gonzalez, MAF’s communications director, has spent the day organizing a response to ProPublica’s specific allegations and to my earlier post. It will be necessary to read my original post to understand the context of the response, but in fairness to MAF, a new post is necessary to give them equal treatment. (I will add a link to this post in an update to the original as well.) The first part of their response is general in nature:

MAF has been around since 2004 and never once has our non-profit status been in jeopardy. We began our care package program in 2006 and since then we’ve sent hundreds of tons of care packages. Right now we’re working on getting another batch of 1,500 out (500 just mailed recently). Our records have been audited by the IRS and were found to be well within the laws and compliance required, in fact our auditor told us privately that our books looked better than most of the charities they’ve dealt with.

As an organization, Pro-Publica styles itself as independent journalism but they’ve fulfilled that mission by going on the attack against conservative groups like ours. They’ve attacked Charles and David Koch, groups like Freedom Path, Americans for Responsible Leadership, Center to Protect Patient Rights, they defended the IRS practice of targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups who they disagree with. They take money from George Soros and are funded by prominent liberal millionaires.

Gonzalez then responded to the specifics of the allegations in Kim Baker’s article. One of the more concerning elements to Baker’s story was the close proximity of MAF and companies owned by Tea Party Express (TPE) figures, especially The Campaign Store (owned by TPE founder Sal Russo) and Donationsafe (started by Shawn Callahan). All of the donations to MAF go through those two vendors, which as Baker notes means that MAF generates revenues for these past or present TPE officials. Gonzales addresses the relationship between MAF and the vendors (lightly edited for punctuation only):

Baker brings up how much money that Donationsafe got from the Conservative Campaign Committee in 2012, but that has nothing to do with MAF. Donationsafe helps provide IT support, and one of their guys often helps set stuff up on the MAF website when we come across something that I don’t know how to do. He helps us with it because we are a client and because we have a long relationship. It’s much better than paying gobs of money to have a dedicated web guy. Donationsafe doesn’t get hardly anything  from MAF because most of our money comes in through care packages. Before we started using Donationsafe, MAF used to use a big company, Aristotle, which was more expensive in fees, and they didn’t have the easy to reach support staff. With Donationsafe I know the support staff guys are local; I can call them anytime day or night with a crisis, and I know they will drop everything and help me out. Donationsafe also gives us a way to process mass orders that we get from our partnerships with radio stations, so without them we would have to pay another staffer to do it manually.

The care packages are processed through The Campaign Store which Barker also demonizes like it’s some kind of big conspiracy. The reality is that when MAF got started originally in 2004 there weren’t nearly as many options available for shopping cart systems online and none of them suited our unique needs, so we built our own with the help of a local team of web developers, and together that formed The Campaign Store. They built us a custom shopping cart that would suit all of our specific needs and also got the merchant account and everything set up so that we could process care package orders and keep track of them. So that’s why the Merchant Account says “The Campaign Store” on the credit card bill when you sponsor a care package.

The Campaign Store team continues to help support MAF and works closely with MAF to this day by setting up new pages and helping us administer the fundraising. Over the years they have built 3 different “web stores” to try to keep it looking fresh and up-to-date with all the graphics. In fundraising it’s important that your site looks up to date. This is a huge job behind the scenes too, because we needed ways to integrate donation tracking with our email server so that we could see where our donations were coming from and interpret what message were resonating with our supporters, etc. Without their IT staff, this would have been a daunting task, something far beyond what I could have accomplished with my meager understanding of web code. Without their guys, we would have had to hire someone to do it, and again that would have been another big cost.

The thing is, Move America Forward really only has two paid staff. We get the job done by using vendors like Donationsafe and TCS who provide IT services and a helping hand to get things done. Shawn, who is the head of Donationsafe, doesn’t get paid anything by MAF for all the work he does to help us out. It’s only through the business relationship that he gets any compensation for the time he devotes. If we didn’t use TCS and Donationsafe we would need other vendors to get the job done, but that would cost even more money and we don’t have the same relationship that we do with the DS and TCS teams.

Barker also looked through the financial disclosures of all the organizations linked to MAF, and found that MAF paid the rent all by itself even though TPE, DS, TCS, and a consultancy called Frontline Strategies, in which Callahan is a partner, share the space. I asked Gonzalez to address that issue, and he added this statement on the rental arrangement:

Move America Forward (MAF) shares a large office space along with Tea Party Express (TPE) Russo, Marsh + Associates (RMA) and Move America Forward Freedom PAC (MAFPAC) all working out of the same office in Sacramento.

The office doubles as MAF’s warehouse as well, so we need enough work space for the volunteers to assemble boxes and storage space for all the care packages and items that go into the care packages. It’s a pretty sizable space, but MAF utilizes the overwhelming majority of the square footage. TPE and RMA also have their offices as well, but they occupy only a small portion and we share some common areas like the conference room. It’s true that MAF does technically pay for all of the rent but I have to stress that this is a mischaracterization of the facts.

Since MAF uses the majority of the office it would be unfair to make every organization pay equal parts, so the arrangement we have is MAF pays for the rent but TPE and RMA pay for many of the associated bills such as internet and phone service, service contracts and supplies/paper/toner etc. for the printers that we all share and that MAF uses often.

I assure you that overall it’s an equitable division of cost. Otherwise, it would just be way too confusing to figure out exactly how much of the internet, phone and printing costs did MAF use vs TPE or RMA, then figure out how many copies did MAF print vs the other organizations and charge accordingly. It would quickly become a mess and this is just simpler for us. I compare it to having your brother in law move into your spare bedroom and rather than making him pay 27% of the rent he agrees to buy groceries and pay the electric bill in lieu.

The statement doesn’t necessarily address all of the issues raised by Barker in her article, but some of those are relatively minor and could just be attributed to poor judgment in selection of photographs and a lack of scrutiny for the details in their claims. (In fairness again, Gonzalez was responding more to my post than the whole ProPublica article, too.) The close proximity of MAF to TPE and its officials’ businesses are more serious, and perhaps that issue hasn’t been fully appreciated in the past. It should be now; whether or not it makes life less convenient, there should be enough separation to keep donors from worrying that their efforts aren’t going for someone else’s profit, especially when it comes to the rental arrangement. It may well be legal, but it doesn’t look good, and that does make a difference when you’re asking people to part with their cash and time for your charity instead of someone else’s.

MAF has certainly provided needed care packages for our troops. Donors and sponsors will need to determine for themselves whether MAF provides the best channel for those efforts and funds in the future — as they should for any charitable effort. Let’s hope MAF can clear the air to restore confidence in the future.

 

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Have you seen what the executives at “Wounded Warrior Project” make?

Disgusting.

BigAlSouth on August 5, 2014 at 6:58 PM

The close proximity of MAF to TPE and its officials’ businesses are more serious

You can count on Ed to take the side of a Soros group. How ridiculous.

faraway on August 5, 2014 at 7:01 PM

The explanation provided rings true … it’s just too straight forward and mundane … most deceptions take on more exotic characteristics.

I hope this turns out to be bad reporting, I would hate to see folks donating money that largely doesn’t help the folks it is intended to help.

And if it turns out the reporting is valid? Then I hope they fold up shop as soon as possible and folks looking to help out troops on deployment find better alternatives.

Grinch on August 5, 2014 at 7:03 PM

Seriously?
What part of zero stars do you fail to understand?

corona79 on August 5, 2014 at 7:05 PM

MAF has certainly provided needed care packages for our troops. Donors and sponsors will need to determine for themselves whether MAF provides the best channel for those efforts and funds in the future — as they should for any charitable effort.

I’m willing to assume that they provided care packages. Where is the evidence they were needed or, for that matter, where they ended up?

As I posted on the original thread, I’m personally more comfortable in giving money to Fisher House or some other charity that has a far clearer record than organizations like MAF. For that matter, I don’t know why anybody would give money to that “Israeli charity” that keeps getting advertised on FNC.

Happy Nomad on August 5, 2014 at 7:05 PM

Have you seen what the executives at “Wounded Warrior Project” make?

Disgusting.

BigAlSouth on August 5, 2014 at 6:58 PM

Yeah: Me and my ex-Father In Law go back and forth over that- He is HIGHLY (and that’s putting it mildly) offended at the WWP over their commercials and as a charity…I tend to take the position that they do do good works and not as slimy as some of the more obvious charlatans shilling for money from a respectful populace.

That being said, if I see credible proof that a charity is not what it seems to be, especially when it comes in regards to the US military, I will be at the barricades with like minded folks protesting until every last member of the guilty party is led out in shackles.

BlaxPac on August 5, 2014 at 7:13 PM

Taking care of the troops? Great target for demonization. Tea party associations too!

And I am not saying that every conservative non-profit who live off of our hard-earned dollars shouldn’t be closely scrutinized to keep them honest. I’m sure the IRS, for one, is only too happy to do that.

But I could care less what a bunch of lefties would say about such an organization. Audit all the George Soros-funded orgs, you wads.

These are the people who spit on our troops.

popup on August 5, 2014 at 7:15 PM

Ed calls this a “damning report” where MAF was “Lining Political Consultants’ Pockets”.

I don’t see anywhere in this ‘report’ where pockets were lined.

I am really stunned that HotAir would be associated with a hit piece like this.

Shame on you.

faraway on August 5, 2014 at 7:31 PM

I really think there needs be some non-profit reforms. Some utilize the money well. But others do bilk people.

I was out of work for a few months and took a job at a tele-marketing place. It was an outbound call center where people would call people for donations to different charities. Some were for cops, kids that were ill(a Make a Wish type org), etc. Whatever could tug at your heart strings, we collected donations for.

Well, what most people didn’t know who agreed to donate was that everyone who were making calls were paid commission on each donation. At the end of the day only 10-20% of the donation actually went to the charity. You were required to let the people you know that you talked to about the 10-20% but ONLY if they asked. And this is perfectly legal. But it shouldn’t be. I was glad to get out of there.

And one more thing in regard to non-profits is the salaries. Some non-profit CEOs make a ton of money. I realize running the org is hard work but there needs to be limits on their pay. If you want to make the big bucks you should work in the private sector.

dforston on August 5, 2014 at 7:31 PM

Have you seen what the executives at “Wounded Warrior Project” make?

Disgusting.

BigAlSouth on August 5, 2014 at 6:58 PM

actually I hadn’t, do I even want to know?

dmacleo on August 5, 2014 at 7:33 PM

Have you seen what the executives at “Wounded Warrior Project” make?

Disgusting.

BigAlSouth on August 5, 2014 at 6:58 PM

They aren’t graded too highly at Charity Navigator.

CW on August 5, 2014 at 7:50 PM

My confidence doesn’t need to be restored. Get back to me when these liberal azzaches write articles about the IRS and DOJ. As for Wounded Warrior Project, my feelings for them went down hill when they returned donations sent from a church. A church for goodness sake.

Cindy Munford on August 5, 2014 at 8:02 PM

Well, I’d say this creates at least reasonable doubt in the ProPublica allegations, and at best it’s a wake up call to MAF to cross their t-s and dot their i-s, since any number of liberal rats work 24/7 to bring down their “enemies.”

TXUS on August 5, 2014 at 8:04 PM

Charity Navigator refuses to grade itself.

ProPublica is not even listed in Charity Navigator even though PP calls itself as “an independent non-profit “. The Sandlers who founded PP also are significant benefactors of the Center for American Progress.

faraway on August 5, 2014 at 8:10 PM

oops, CN doesn’t list all non-profits. I see now.

faraway on August 5, 2014 at 8:22 PM

Do I have to do everything around here :)

faraway on August 5, 2014 at 8:23 PM

Let’s hope MAF can clear the air to restore confidence in the future.

.
Congratulations, Mr. Morrissey.

Having read through both articles, you have clearly established yourself as a self serving hypocrite worthy of an anchor chair on the evening news.

This is an organization you say you have worked with “As a donor and sponsor of Troopathons going all the way back to my days at Captain’s Quarters” but have effectively hung out to dry despite:

1) Never having done appropriate due diligence on them at any point prior to today given your avowed profound disappointment. I taught my CHILDREN not to get overly involved with groups before “checking them out”.

2) Not reaching out and getting their input BEFORE making your FIRST damning post regarding an “exposé from ProPublica and The Daily Beast”.

You have also refreshed the validity of a rule I had whether leading a volunteer organization or a a political campaign:

There is NO SUCH THING as a “FRIEND IN THE MEDIA”.

Did it occur to YOU that with your behavior today you’ve demonstrated LESS professionalism than many of the media organizations you have castigated in the past?

Truly despicable behavior REGARDLESS of what MAF has or HAS NOT done.

Movie recommendation: “Absence Of Malice”

PolAgnostic on August 5, 2014 at 8:44 PM

The Left has done it’s job.

When anyone Googles MAF, they will find lots of articles (including 2 by Ed) claiming cronyism.

Where does MAF go to get their credibility back?

faraway on August 5, 2014 at 9:03 PM

Charity Navigator refuses to grade itself.

ProPublica is not even listed in Charity Navigator even though PP calls itself as “an independent non-profit “. The Sandlers who founded PP also are significant benefactors of the Center for American Progress.

faraway on August 5, 2014 at 8:10 PM

Wasn’t PP the group that published the illegal IRS data against Tea Party groups and NOM?

Why yes, yes they did.

This seems to be another hit-piece of the same “progressive-aggressive” attack style

Buck Farky on August 5, 2014 at 9:29 PM

MAF has been around since 2004 and never once has our non-profit status been in jeopardy.

This is a red herring. Most charities are corrupt and mainly enrich their executives. If you give money to any charity other than the Salvation Army you are probably throwing your money away. And if you haven’t figured it out by now – Morrissey is an idiot.

earlgrey on August 5, 2014 at 9:57 PM

Charity Navigator refuses to grade itself.
ProPublica is not even listed in Charity Navigator even though PP calls itself as “an independent non-profit “. The Sandlers who founded PP also are significant benefactors of the Center for American Progress.

faraway on August 5, 2014 at 8:10 PM

Ok, I was googling around and stumbled across this. This is kind of old, and apologies if it was posted before, but it looks like we can rest assured that the heroic watchdogs at Propublica won’t go starving.

http://mediactive.com/2009/10/01/non-profit-media-what-you-pay-for-and-who-pays/

RINO in Name Only on August 5, 2014 at 11:04 PM

I seriously don’t have time to comb through their IRS filing, but having worked for a charity, just a couple of things.

For an org that takes in $1M a year, that their top paid employee makes $50,000 in California is incredible. Fundraising at that level is hard work, I can tell you from experience, and even with charities, a) you get what you pay for and b) somebody’s got to be in control of the mundane things, such as paying the bills – things that can’t be done with someone who comes off the street who wants to “help”.

Secondly, Charity Navigator should never be a person’s only guide to a charity. Most charities even publish their IRS 990 forms online, and from that, one can often get a better picture of what’s going on. CN can be very useful, but it certainly doesn’t cover every situation (and the older charities are, the harder it is for them to get the higher ratings).

Furthermore, a lot of those ratings are really dependent on how well the IRS 990 forms are put together – my org had a lawyer as head, so he guided that process in a way that was favorable to us, but if you don’t have an accountant or lawyer on staff, it can be very difficult to know how your expenses, etc, get categorized.

As a note, from reading these posts and the recaps, it seems like there is a strange synergy between “purchases” and “donations” on the website. Now it may be that all money going in is considered donations, regardless of whether it is a “purchase” or “donation”, but maybe not, and that sort of thing can really cause a hassle with how things end up looking on your 990.

Sure, there are any number of bad charities out there, but again, everyone should be doing some research into the organizations that they want to support. However, it really saddens me to see people saying that they never give to charity because somehow they are “all rackets”. Charity is the method by which people become community and help each other in order to keep government small and at bay. If we don’t participate in that, we’re just asking for government to come in and try to “fix” everyone’s problems.

Katja on August 6, 2014 at 12:23 AM

Ed, the best bang for your buck for care packages is the local Marine Corps League.

the Coondawg on August 6, 2014 at 1:56 AM

Ed’s honest enough to provide his readers with the information they need to make up their own minds. Ed went directly to the source and provided them with an opportunity to clarify a few things. Hardly throwing them under a bus.

They obviously need to straighten out a few things.

lexhamfox on August 6, 2014 at 2:13 AM

Pretty sure Ed’s taking the “above reproach” tact as-far-as MAF/TPE proximity, if not all of it. While I’m no fan of liberal hit pieces, we really should demand this of charities (and politicians and ministers).

I prefer to donate locally, though that may be harder if one wants to send the overseas troops something.

eforhan on August 6, 2014 at 9:08 AM

You can count on Ed to take the side of a Soros group. How ridiculous.

faraway on August 5, 2014 at 7:01 PM

Wow, that’s a pretty vicious slander of Ed.

GWB on August 6, 2014 at 9:36 AM

Charity is the method by which people become community and help each other in order to keep government small and at bay.

Katja on August 6, 2014 at 12:23 AM

Well said!

GWB on August 6, 2014 at 9:39 AM