Cementing his feud with Megyn Kelly and Fox News, Donald Trump will hold a fundraiser in Iowa tonight in support of veterans, rather than debate his fellow Republican candidates on the network’s prime-time debate.
At least one veterans organization has said it will decline donations from Trump’s event. DC being the headquarters of countless veterans organizations, we called more than ten and asked: What’s your stance?
Most offered a deep sigh and a no comment. Jessica Coscia, vice president of communications at Student Veterans of America, a 501(c)3 organization based in DC, offered the explanation that “legally we can’t accept donations from political campaigns or candidates, nor can we take positions on campaigns or presidential candidates or anything that involves politics.” But it’s not always so cut and dried.
Abby Levine, director of the Bolder Advocacy program at Alliance for Justice, which advises nonprofits about the legal rules for advocacy, including how nonprofits can get involved in lobbying and other election-related activities, says whether a 501(c)3 organization chooses to accept donations from the Donald J. Trump Foundation (which is a registered nonprofit and the receptacle for donations made on donaldtrumpforvets.com), is largely a matter of optics. “It’s usually a perceptions issue” and “could they be seen as supporting” the candidate, says Levine. 501(c)3s cannot support or oppose candidates. “There’s usually the sense that by accepting funding they are somehow associating with the entity, or the campaign, or the candidate, and different organizations have different policies about the types of funding they accept.”
Seth Lynn, executive director of DC-based Veterans Campaign, which prepares veterans for second careers in civil service, says that politicians latching on to the “halo effect” of veterans and veterans issues is old news. He adds that he doesn’t “think that by accepting a donation, that would automatically politicize that organization.”
Carly Fiorina and Super PACS supporting Ted Cruz have offered money to vets’ groups if Trump agrees to join another debate. Eric Walker, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, says the political bidding war to support veterans’ organizations breaking out among Republican candidates is “shameless and pretty transparent.” The Republican National Committee didn’t respond to a request for comment in time.