The telephone rings just before dinner and you reluctantly interrupt what you’re doing to answer.
“This is so and so and I’d like to ask you for a moment of your time for our veterans,” says the voice on the phone. If you are at all like me, and I expect that you may be, you dislike telemarketers and usually brush them off with more speed then politeness, especially around dinner time.
He tells you that the “Veterans Association” that he represents is a long established charity with tens of thousands of dues paying members and headquarters in more than twenty states. He offers a short list of good works and projects that they have supported in your area and you think that a couple of them sound familiar.
The pitchman is practiced and convincing and when he gives you the address to send your pledge to, you write a check for a ten spot or twenty, maybe fifty bucks, put it in an envelope and put it on the hall table to mail on your way to work in the morning.
Like me you probably derive a small satisfaction from giving, coupled with a bit of guilt that you can’t offer more but, hey, money’s tight everywhere.
This is, fundamentally, how a “charitable organization” known as the US Navy Veterans Association (USNVA) has collected more than twenty two million dollars in the name of veterans over the last several years.
During the past month I’ve excerpted several stories from an investigative series by a team led by St Petersburg Times writers Jeff Testerman and John Martin. If you haven’t done so I recommend that you read the entire series here. It is an eyeopening trip through a shadowy world of “charitable” fund raising and political donations.
A few elements of the story :
The St Petersburg Times could not find 84 of the 85 USNVA directors and officers, nor its board chairman, “Jack Nimitz.” Although they searched extensively, nearly every name listed in various state and federal filings; directors, accountants, officers – the newspaper turned up nothing.
Most of the addresses the organization listed were UPS mail drops and the organization’s phone numbers lead to the same voice mail messages. Many addresses listed led to vacant lots.
The organization’s website looks as if it were developed by a tech deprived 7th grader, no it’s not that polished.
The only official that could be located was “LtCmdr” Bobby Thompson who after the Times investigation got rolling moved from his residence of ten years, left no forwarding address, and seems to have dropped from sight.
There is a pattern of hefty donations from “LtCmdr” Thompson and or his former PAC – NavPac to Republican politicians in various states.
The St Pete Times is a highly acclaimed news organization that has garnered enough Pulitzer Prize certificates to wallpaper the room I’m working in … small room but you get the point. I’ve read the series and found it to be well researched, properly sourced, hard hitting but fairly and dispassionately presented and completely credible. I’m a believer.
Yesterday, a few hours after I excerpted the latest piece in the series ”Stand-ins Posed as Members of Navy Veterans Association” I received an email from Dan Casey, a writer with the Roanoke Times who, with co-writer Michael Sluss had just published an article about the same organization titled “Florida contributor to Virginia campaigns raises questions.”
The Roanoke Times piece centered on $67500 in political donations to Republican office holders and seekers given during 2009 by USNVA “director” “LtCmdr” Bobby Thompson. The money appears (to me at least) to have been donated to Virginia pols including the State’s new Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s and Governor Bob McDonnell with the possible intent to influence legislation favorable to USNVA. Thompson was at the time lobbying various officials to be allowed to raise funds in Va. without formal registration. In fairness I must say that $1000 dollars of that money went to the Democrat who introduced the legislation in question. That’s 66 to one but I don’t want to be a sore loser. Read the article, it’s a catchy tune.
The gift to the Virginia AG piqued my interest because I’ve been trying to get information on “LtCmdr” Bobby Thompson and the USNVA from the Ohio Attorney General’s Charitable Law division for several weeks. A media spokesman there would tell me only that the USNVA is a registered charity in the state and is currently “in good standing.” He was helpful in sending me their legal filings, reports, etc. He would not however, comment on whether or not there is an ongoing investigation into the organization’s activities in Ohio.
Bear in mind that the USNVA is currently being investigated by authorities in Florida, Missouri, and New Mexico a fact that the Ohio AG’s office is aware of. I know they’re aware of it because if they weren’t … I told them.
I spoke with Ohio attorney, Helen Mac Murray who represents the USNVA and Mr. Thompson a few weeks ago and she told me that “all” of the allegations against her client are completely false and without basis, and that the USNVA is a “good organization.” She elaborated that the St Petersburg Times series was a witch-hunt by a “liberal, left wing newspaper.” I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with her about the Roanoke Times piece but I’ll try. I’d like to find out if they are “left wingers” on a “witch hunt” as well.
Ms. Mac Murray is a former Assistant Attorney General who ran the Ohio AG’s consumer division during the tenure of then Attorney General and fellow Republican, Betty Montgomery. Ms. Montgomery is now an attorney with Mac Murray’s law firm Mac Murray, Cook, Petersen and Shuster of New Albany Ohio.
I am comforted by the coziness and loyalty on display here but being suspicious by nature I can’t help but wonder if the possibility of an investigation of the USNVA in Ohio is somehow being impeded by such … snuggling.
Remember that envelope on the hall table? Don’t drop it in the mailbox just yet. If, like me, you live in Ohio or hell, even if you don’t, make a call to the Ohio AG’s office at 614 466 3181 and ask them if there’s any reason why you should hang on to your dough until we find out what’s behind this yellow ribbon.
Tell them we want to know if it’s on the up and up to use donations to a tax exempt charitable organization as a political slush fund. Tell them we’re just … curious.