Politics

Hottest Trend In GOP Presidential Politics: Using Veterans Charities For ‘Political Stunts’

CREDIT: AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez

GOP frontrunner Donald Trump is skipping Thursday night’s debate and hosting a “special event to benefit veterans organizations.” The campaign has set up a website to take donations for veterans, but it provides no details on where the money would go.

Now, some of Trump’s rivals are trying to get in the game. Two Super PACs supporting Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) have promised $1.5 million to unnamed “charities committed to helping veterans” if Trump agrees to a one-on-one debate on Saturday night. Then, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina decided to jump on the bandwagon.

Presumably, if Trump declines their invitations, the campaigns would not donate the money.

Some veterans groups have already denounced these moves as “political stunts” that don’t actually help veterans. The 150,000-member organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has said they wouldn’t take Trump’s money if it were offered, and the group’s CEO said Thursday that Cruz’s actions are similarly unhelpful.

The organization VoteVets, which represents thousands of U.S. veterans, blasted Trump for “using veterans as a prop to hide behind.”

VoteVets also questioned the sincerity of Trump’s interest in veterans, pointing out that his website is “light on details” when it comes to what he would do for veterans.

“Your so-called veterans’ plan on your website is a joke,” VoteVets’ chair and Iraq War veteran Jon Soltz said in a statement addressed to Trump. “It’s pathetic.”

The hotel mogul has not yet responded to inquires from ThinkProgress asking which veterans’ organizations will receive funds raised at Thursday night’s event and how he plans to raise the money, considering his campaign is giving away free tickets online.

Popular blogs dedicated to veterans’ issues have criticized Trump for presenting almost no policy proposals related to the top concerns of the nation’s former servicemen and women. Out of 11 topics, including combating the suicide epidemic and preventing hiring discrimination against veterans, Trump had addressed just one.

Yet other veterans’ organizations are taking a more positive view of the trend of candidates using donations to veterans as political leverage. Joe Davis, the Director of Public Affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told ThinkProgress: “Anything that keeps veterans in the spotlight is a good thing.” He added that whether donations come in from these campaigns or regular citizens, they are sorely needed. “A pressing financial need would be full and productive employment for every veteran seeking a job,” he said.

Over President Obama’s tenure, homelessness among the country’s veterans has declined by 35 percent, or 25,642 fewer people without homes. But nearly 50,000 veterans are sleeping on the streets, as of 2015. Millions of veterans also depend on food stamps, which many GOP candidates for president have said they would cut if elected to the White House.

UPDATE JAN 28, 2016 11:19 PM

After Thursday night's event, Trump claimed to have raised $6 million dollars, but the campaign still refused to specify which groups would receive the money. Though a donation page on Trump's website claimed, "100% of your donations will go directly to Veterans needs," the site funneled the donations through Trump's own personal foundation.

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UPDATE JAN 28, 2016 11:19 PM

Late Thursday night, after announcing a $6 million donation haul, Trump posted a list of veterans' charities on his website that will be receiving the funds. None of the nation's major traditional veterans' advocacy groups are included, but the list has more than a dozen smaller organizations spread across the U.S. that help veterans struggling with homelessness and mental illness.

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