Sunday, September 20, 2015

The skinny on Trump's fundraising speech on the USS Iowa: Did Trump get scammed?

If you watch the Rachel Maddow show you know all about this one. Just in case you missed it, here is the skinny from Steve Benen.

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.

That's bad, showcasing Trump's shallowness. But it gets worse, much worse.

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 Arends has quite a history. He's under investigation for election irregularities and the IRS has revoked the non-profit status of his "organization."

... 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."

The exact answer does not matter because any outcome is bad for Trump. Was he part of some scam? That's a legal and ethical problem. Or did was he or his staff duped? That's a competence problem. I don't see a win for him in this one.

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