Pro Publica has been doing some of the best long-form investigative journalism in the country for several years and this piece continues that tradition. It exposes a “charity” called Move America Forward, which purports to support the troops, as little more than a Tea Party fundraising tool and a scam.
In February 2013, Move America Forward announced an ambitious fundraising goal. The charity, launched in part by one of the most prominent figures in the Tea Party movement, had adopted the 800 Marines in a battalion fighting in Afghanistan and wanted to send them all care packages.
“For some troops, these care packages are the only mail they will receive all year,” the group said in one email solicitation.
The charity later described the fundraising drive as a rousing success: In less than five weeks, all 800 Marines in a 1st Marine Division battalion nicknamed Geronimo were sent care packages and notes in Afghanistan, it claimed.
But that couldn’t have been true. The Marines of Geronimo weren’t even in Afghanistan during Move America Forward’s fund drive. Instead, they were deployed more than 3,000 miles away, in Okinawa, Japan.
Move America Forward calls itself the nation’s “largest grassroots pro-troop organization,” and has recruited a bevy of Republican luminaries, including former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, to support its efforts.
Yet an examination of its fundraising appeals, tax records and other documents shows that Move America Forward has repeatedly misled donors and inflated its charitable accomplishments, while funneling millions of dollars in revenue to the men behind the group and their political consulting firms.
In several instances, the charity has taken images and stories from other groups and from veterans themselves without permission to use in fundraising appeals.
Last year, Move America Forward even solicited funds by claiming a partnership with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the largest hospital for wounded service members in the country. No such partnership existed, Defense Department officials say.
It was created by the same guy, Sal Russo, who created Tea Party Express, one of the largest Tea Party groups in the country. Here are some examples of their particular grift:
In soliciting funds for care packages, Move America Forward frequently uses testimonials from troops or their relatives. Some are legitimate, but in several cases, ProPublica found, the charity took photos and stories without permission and used them as its own.
One solicitation emailed on April 2, 2013, included a note from “Lacey,” Move America Forward’s contact in Afghanistan. “An update that I received the 60 [packages] you sent off on March 25 & 26th,” Lacey wrote. “We got them yesterday and already got them on our chinook today out [to] some dustoff guys who have been eating MREs for a month now.”
The note promised to send more pictures “like before,” and included a photograph of a Chinook helicopter unloading supplies.
But ProPublica traced the photograph back to a stock photo company called StockTrek Images. It was actually taken on Sept. 22, 2004, when soldiers were unloading supplies in Afghanistan for a combat resupply mission.
ProPublica traced other photographs employed in fundraising pleas by Move America Forward to media outlets such as Agence France Press, Reuters and the San Antonio Express-News, to photos posted by service members on Flickr, to random photos pinned on Pinterest. Move America Forward even used the photograph of a soldier hugging a woman found on Pinterest for a Valentine’s Day pitch, digitally removing the soldier’s name, Boyer, from his cap.
In February 2013, Move America Forward sent an email including a photograph of two grinning soldiers holding packages of Double Stuffed Oreos. “The easiest way to get chocolate that will not melt to our troops in Afghanistan is with the Oreo cookies in our care packages,” the charity wrote below the photo.
But the Oreo cookies in the photograph were actually sent by Operation Oreo, a project of Alpharetta Methodist Church in Georgia.
In a fundraising email sent earlier this year, the charity included a photograph of a smiling soldier holding up a care package, his uniform nametag smudged out.
But Move America Forward had taken the picture, which originally featured four other soldiers alongside the one in the email, from the website of the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs. The soldiers were in Iraq, and not, as Move America’s email suggested, in Afghanistan. And the package the soldier held was not from Move America Forward.
“The care packages in the photo are from the American Legion and the VFW posts in Watertown, WI,” Maj. Paul Rickert of the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs said in an email.
Move America Forward has also used images from the websites of AdoptAPlatoon and Operation Gratitude, two charities that send care packages regularly to troops, to solicit donations.
Sounds like it’s time to shut down this “charity.”