Mother Jones reported that Veterans for a Strong America was a registered 501(c)(4), but news reports indicate that the organization had its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRSbecause it failed to submit Form 990s for three years running. However, regardless of the IRS action, the “Veterans for a Strong America Action Group” appears on the Center for Responsive Politics website as a super PAC with several five-figure donations from Veterans for a Strong America. The PAC’s expenditures were in support of Mitt Romney for president ($125,080) and Rick Berg, a Republican running in North Dakota for the Senate ($45,000). Arends appears as the treasurer of the super PAC. At a minimum, it would appear that Arends and the Veterans for a Strong America, if that is anything more than Arends under a different name, are hardly nonpartisan. The PAC’s disclosure of several five-figure donations from VSA makes it appear like VSA is the 501(c)(4) that camouflages the donors who would otherwise be revealed if they were to give to the Super PAC directly.
A number of sources suggested that Veterans for a Strong America, unclear whether the PAC or the 501(c)(4), has 500,000 members. Trump himself said that the organization has “hundreds of thousands of members.” Although reportedly not inclined to make political endorsements in the past, Arends and Veterans for a Strong America endorsed Trump’s candidacy at his USS Iowa speech. The press coverage of the Trump speech largely took it for granted that Veterans For a Strong America was a legitimate organization, though Leo Shane III in the Military Times says that the group “is largely unknown among major veterans service organizations.”Here is the big question: how much money did Trump give the group?
At Forbes, Kelly Phillips Erb writes:
The rule used to be that tax exempt groups which fell under certain income thresholds did not have to file an information return with IRS. However, all of that changed under the Pension Protection Act of 2006 which made it mandatory for most tax exempt organizations to file an annual information return or notice with the IRS regardless of how much (or little) income the organization received. Failure to do so for three consecutive years resulted in an automatic loss of tax-exempt status unless exempted (for example, churches and certain church-related organizations are not required to file annual reports). The first year that would have impacted existing organizations would have been 2010 since returns which were not filed for the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 would have resulted in a loss of status.
VSA’s Facebook page indicates that it was founded in 2010. Assuming that tax exempt status was obtained in 2010, information returns would have been required for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. A loss of status as of May 15, 2015 (the due date for most tax exempt information returns) indicates that, at a minimum, returns were not filed for 2012, 2013 and 2014.
While the organization has a South Dakota mailing address, there is no such organization listed in the South Dakota business database. There is a “Vets For America” group, identified as a domestic nonprofit in good standing which was incorporated just recently, on August 31, 2015. The registered agent for the organization is Arends Law, P.C. Arends Law is managed by Joel Arends, who, according to his website, served as a campaign aide to president George W. Bush and former presidential candidates Senator John McCain and congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Arends is also identified on the VSA website as its Chairman. Arends appeared alongside Trump at the event on Tuesday but there is no indication that Trump’s camp knew about the revocation of the group’s status at the time.