Donald Trump announced this week that he would boycott Thursday’s presidential debate after Fox News refused to honor his request to cut moderator Megyn Kelly. Trump has claimed he will instead host a fundraiser for “veterans and wounded warriors, but the Republican frontrunner has not specified exactly which groups he would be supporting. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America — which represents 150,000 veterans across the country — says they do not want his money.
On Wednesday, the founder and CEO of the IAVA publicly slammed Trump for what he sees as a cynical, political move.
If offered, @IAVA will decline donations from Trump's event. We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts.
— Paul (PJ) Rieckhoff (@PaulRieckhoff) January 27, 2016
Rieckhoff, who served in the Army in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, said Trump had not offered his organization any money so far, but insisted they would decline the funds.
The backlash was immediate, with a wave of online comments excoriating Rieckhoff for turning down the still-theoretical money. “You’d be hurting the very people you claim to be helping,” scolded one follower. “You will deny needy veterans because of your political agenda? You should resign or be fired!” cried another.
Others thanked Rieckhoff for standing up to a candidate they say has repeatedly used veterans as political props.
In December, Trump threatened to boycott another televised debate unless CNN donated $5 million dollars “to vets.” The donation never happened, and Trump agreed to participate anyway. “I don’t want to take the chance of hurting my campaign,” he explained in an interview with the Washington Post.
Trump also held a fundraiser last year for an organization called Veterans for a Strong America, which upon investigation by MSNBC and the Associated Press was found to not have any members and to have lost its non-profit legal status. Its founder is also under investigation in both Arizona and Texas.
The IAVA also took issue with how Sarah Palin — who recently endorsed Trump — has referenced veterans on the campaign trail. In a speech praising Trump, Palin said her son Track returned from a yearlong deployment in Iraq “different” and “hardened,” and those changes, combined with President Obama’s lack of “respect” for veterans, led him to be arrested on domestic violence charges.
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.
The IAVA, which is one of the largest and most politically influential veterans’ groups in the United States, says they will not make an endorsement in either the 2016 primaries or the general election in November. “We hold them all accountable and have always been nonpartisan,” Rieckhoff said of the many candidates vying for the White House.
Instead, he is urging all candidates to read up on the organization’s demands — which include renewing the GI Bill and increasing the number of mental health professionals in the VA — and announce how they will address them if elected to the White House.