Concerned Veterans for America

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Follow the money in the Koch wiki.

This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) is a 501(c)(4) non-profit whose major funders through the years have been the Koch brothers and their donor network; as such Sourcewatch.org considers CVA to be a Koch Brothers front group.[1] The Koch donors network appears to use CVA to advocate for reductions in federal spending, to attack the 2010 Affordable Care Act and to advance other "free market" policies.

An investigation by ProPublica found that Concerned Veterans for America is funded submits its IRS filings under the name Vets for Economic Freedom Trust. Those documents list former Koch Industries managing director Wayne Gable as a trustee.[2]

Many Koch funding vehicles are set up as nonprofit trusts rather than not-for-profit corporations, "an unusual step that reduces their public reporting requirements," says ProPublica. “My guess is that we’re looking at various forms of disguise — to disguise control, to disguise the flow of funds from one entity to another,” said Gregory Colvin, a tax lawyer and campaign-finance specialist in San Francisco who reviewed all the documents for ProPublica.”[2]

The group's current President and Chief Operating Officer, Jae Pak, has been with CVA since July 2014.[3] After his career in the military, Pak held various operations roles with Capital One Financial Corporation, the College Board, and International Baccalaureate.[3]

The former CEO, Pete Hagseth, was the former executive director of the pro-Iraq War Vets for Freedom[3] and as of June 2014 was finance chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota.[4] Hegseth appears to have attended at least one Koch network summit meeting.

Koch Wiki

The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.

The $400 million Koch network.
The $400 million Koch network uses a maze of nonprofit groups and LLCs to conceal donations and campaign activity
Source: Robert Maguire with the Center for Responsive Politics. Matea Gold and Cristina Rivero/The Washington Post.

2015-2016 Election Cycle

According to Politico's Austin Wright, CVA was preparing for the 2016 elections by "pushing for a more muscular U.S. foreign policy and [was] seeking to give veterans the option of government-subsidized private health care — a priority that aligns with the Koch agenda."[5]

CVA Releases TV Ad Backing Rep. Joe Heck for Senate in Nevada

Leading the Charge

In its first political TV ad of 2016, CVA went after the seat of the soon-to-be retired Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.[6] The TV spot features military veterans speaking in support of Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), who is challenging Catherine Cortez Masto for the opening.[6] According to The New York Times, CVA had made a "$700,000 broadcast and digital buy."[6]

Koch Industries has been one of Rep. Heck's top contributors throughout his career,[7] and Heck voted with Koch-held positions nearly 90 percent of the time in 2015 according to a "scorecard" compiled by the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity.[8] In 2014, Americans for Prosperity also ran a $200,000 advertisement in support of Heck.[9]

CEO Pete Hagseth Resigns

On January 20, 2016 the Military Times reported CVA's CEO since July 2012, Pete Hagseth, "quietly resigned" in the weeks leading up to first primaries in the 2016 election cycle.[10] Other CVA officials, as well as Hagseth, say the split was a mutual decision and Jae Pak, then CVA's Chief Operating Officer, would take over the role of president.[10]

Web Ad Aimed at Hillary Clinton on Department of Veterans Affairs

Tell Congress: Don't Stand With Hillary, Support VA Reform!

On November 6, 2015, a 30-second internet ad funded by CVA attacked Hillary Clinton for comments she made about the current state of the Department of Veterans Affairs. In the first Koch-backed attempt to target Clinton's 2016 run for presidency, the CVA spent upwards of $100,000 on the commercial to promote VA reform, which was shown on the internet to users in Florida and South Carolina.[11] The ad uses quotes about poor conditions in VA hospitals, from various media outlets, to contradict Clinton's comments that "it's not been widespread as it has been made out to be." In the end, the ad asserts "our veterans deserve better" and pleads for viewers to support the "VA Accountability Act."[12]

2015 Ads Opposing Senate Democrats

In 2015 Concerned Veterans for America began an ad series with a six-figure budget that aimed at hindering the re-election campaigns of Democratic Senators.[13] The first installment in a series of online and mail ads aired in October 2015, "targeting Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, the most vulnerable Senate Democrat up for reelection next year, as well as three Democrats up for reelection in 2018: Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota", according to Politico.[13] The ad was available on YouTube at the time of Politico's initial report, but has since been removed.

"Community Organizing"

Koch network organizations, including CVA, Americans for Prosperity, the Libre Initiative, and Generation Opportunity, were expanding their "grass-roots" organizing for the 2015-2016 election cycle, according to a report by NPR in October 2015.[14] CVA CEO Peter Hegseth spoke at an August 2015 conference for Koch-funded organizations as part of a session called "Community Organization -- Life Past November," describing the CVA's recent tactics advocating for legislation that would make it easier to fire employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"At the community-organizing session, Hegseth said he put the basic message — less government and regulation, more unfettered free enterprise — and framed it in military terms.
"'It's fighting for the freedom and prosperity here at home that we fought for overseas or in uniform,' he said. 'It's when you raise your right hand to defend the Constitution. There's no reason why when you come home that service should stop.'"[14]

Hegseth explained how CVA volunteers discuss the legislation with military families, as well as "pick up an iPad and knock on some doors and make some phone calls and remind veterans to vote."[14]

2014 Midterm Elections

Web Ad Targets Alan Grayson (D-FL) on Healthcare

Government Health Care Equals Disaster

On December 16, 2013, CVA released an ad titled "Government Health Care Equals Disaster" to run online for two weeks in Florida's 9th district, represented by Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson.[15] Conflating the VA healthcare system with the Affordable Care Act (sometimes colloquially called "Obamacare"), the ad highlights long wait times at VA hospitals, then shows a Vietnam veteran saying "Don't expect to be taken care of by Obamacare." The ad ends with the statement: "Tell Congressman Grayson to listen to our vets, government healthcare doesn't work."[16]

Ties to the Koch Brothers

The Koch network was one of the biggest political operations in 2012 and worked largely outside the campaign finance system, raising at least $407 million. Source: Robert Maguire with the Center for Responsive Politics.

CVA is one of the organizations identified by The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics as part of "a coalition of allied conservative groups active in the 2012 elections that together raised at least $407 million, backed by a donor network organized by the industrialists Charles and David Koch."[1] From 2011-2012, CVA received almost $2 million from the TC4 Trust and an additional $32,000 from the Center to Protect Patient Rights; both groups played key roles in the Koch funding network for the 2012 election cycle. From 2012-2014, CVA and related entities received more than $20 million from Freedom Partners, which Politico has described as "the Koch brothers' secret bank."[17] See below for funding information.

An investigation into CVA by ProPublica revealed that one of CVA's trustees is Wayne Gable,[2] a former managing director of federal affairs at Koch Industries, president of the Charles G. Koch Foundation, and a board member of Freedom Partners. Gable has also been involved with the Koch network groups Citizens for a Sound Economy and Americans for Prosperity.

Activities

VA Accountability Project

CVA runs a project called VA Accountability, which advocates for the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014. Introduced in the House by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), the bill would give the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) secretary greater power to demote or fire high-ranking federal employees at the VA. The Civil Service Act normally protects such employees from being easily fired. The House passed the bill by a wide margin on May 21, 2014.[18] Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a Senate version but no vote had been taken as of the beginning of June 2014.[19]

CVA's former president Pete Hegseth has connected his support for the VA reform to his opposition to single-payer healthcare, telling the Republican Seniors of Minnesota, "The Department of Veterans Affairs is probably the best preview anywhere of what government-run, top-down, single-payer health care looks like [...] No choice, no transparency of cost, lots of bureaucracy.”[4]

The VA Accountability project is intended to encourage "participants to call members of Congress to co-sponsor the VA Accountability and Management Act or to join a “strike team” to help put even more pressure on Congress to take action."[20]

"Freedom Summer Tour" 2014

In April 2014, CVA announced it would undertake a 10-city bus tour, which would include performances by the band Madison Rising and speakers "bringing a message of service and freedom; as well as ways for fellow veterans—and all Americans—to continue fighting for freedom and the American Dream."[21]

Positions

CVA's website describes as its main issues "runaway government spending," free market and pro-business policies, and the federal budget deficit and debt, which it describes as "the biggest threat to U.S. national security."[22]

According to its website, CVA planned to focus on the following legislation in 2014:

  • "VA Reform" through the Dept. of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014 (S. 2013/H.R. 4031)
  • "DoD Reform" through the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2013 (S. 1510/H.R. 3184)
  • "Spending Reform" through federal and state-level balanced budget amendments
  • "Military Voting Reform" through the Safeguarding Elections for our Nation’s Troops through Reforms and Improvements (SENTRI) Act of 2013 (S. 1728/H.R. 3576)

Funding from Secretive Trusts

As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, CVA is not required to disclose its donors. However, CVA appears to have received the vast majority of its revenues from Koch network funding vehicles, structured to keep donors secret and the public in the dark.

Many Koch funding vehicles are set up as nonprofit trusts rather than not-for-profit corporations, "an unusual step that reduces their public reporting requirements," says ProPublica. “My guess is that we’re looking at various forms of disguise — to disguise control, to disguise the flow of funds from one entity to another,” said Gregory Colvin, a tax lawyer and campaign-finance specialist in San Francisco who reviewed all the documents for ProPublica.”[2]

From mid-2011 to mid-2012, the Koch-linked TC4 Trust gave $1,968,000 to CVA, according to research by ProPublica. [23] This would appear to be almost all of the revenue CVA reported to the IRS for its 2011-2012 fiscal year.

From November 2012-December 2014, CVA and its related organizations received at least $20,980,000 in funding from Freedom Partners,[24][25] which Politico has described as the Koch funding network's "secret bank."[17] That appears to comprise the vast majority of CVA's reported revenues for the same period.

Funder Amount Recipient Period Reported
TC4 Trust $1,968,000 TOHE, LLC[26] July 2011-June 2012
Freedom Partners $5,245,000 TOHE, LLC (Concerned Vets for America)[24] Nov. 2012-Oct. 2013
Freedom Partners $3,000,000 TOHE, LLC (Veterans for Economic Freedom Trust)[25] 2014 calendar year
Freedom Partners $12,735,000 Vets for Economic Freedom Trust (501(c)(3))[25] 2014 calendar year

Core Financials

2014[27]
For the period October 1, 2013-September 30, 2014

  • Total Revenue: $15,703,141
  • Total Expenses: $16,131,623
  • Net Assets: $223,152

2013[28]
For the period October 12, 2011-September 30, 2012

  • Total Revenue: $3,796,235
  • Total Expenses: $3,926,591
  • Net Assets: $651,634

2012[29]
For the period October 12, 2011-September 30, 2012

  • Total Revenue: $1,969,994
  • Total Expenses: $1,188,004
  • Net Assets: $781,990

Personnel

Organizing Committee

As of December 2015:[30]

Staff

CVA does not list most of its staff on its website. The following names were listed on tax filings and other CVA documents, as of June 2014:

Related Organizations

According to Concerned Veterans for America's tax filings, which are under the name "Vets for Economic Freedom Trust," CVA has the following related organizations:[29]

  • TOHE, LLC (EIN 45-3763542), a disregarded entity of CVA
  • Concerned Veterans for America (EIN 46-3508366), a related 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization

Contact Information

Address:
1405 S. Fern St, #197
Arlington, VA 22202
Media contact: Emily Laird, (571) 302-0973[21]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Matea Gold, "The players in the Koch-backed $400 million political donor network," Washington Post, January 5, 2014. Accessed June 18, 2014.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Kim Barker and Theodoric Meyer, "Who Controls the Kochs’ Political Network? ASMI, SLAH and TOHE," ProPublica, March 17, 2014. Accessed June 18, 2014.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Concerned Veterans for America, Staff, organizational website, accessed February 9, 2016.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Cyndy Brucato, "New GOP finance chair Pete Hegseth comes out swinging on VA management," Minnesota Post, June 4, 2014. Accessed June 24, 2014.
  5. Austin Wright, "Well-funded vets groups prepare for 2016 battle," Politico, June 25, 2015.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Nick Corasaniti, Koch-Linked Group Releases Ad Backing G.O.P. Candidate for Harry Reid’s Seat, New York Times, March 1, 2016.
  7. Center for Responsive Politics, Joe Heck Top Contributors, Open Secrets, 2016.
  8. Americans for Prosperity, "Scorecard: Joe Heck," organization website, accessed March 2016. Archived by the Center for Media and Democracy.
  9. Zachary Peters, "[http://www.prwatch.org/news/2016/03/13056/koch-concerned-veterans-america-joe-heck Koch-Funded Concerned Veterans for America Goes to Bat for Joe Heck," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, March 3, 2016.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Leo Shane III, "Conservative-backed veterans group restructures after leader quits," Military Times, January 20, 2016.
  11. Julie Bykowicz, "Clinton targeted in ad from group tied to Koch brothers," Associated Press, November 6, 2015.
  12. Concerned Veterans for America, Don't Stand With Hillary, Support VA Reform!, YouTube video. Nov 6, 2015.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Theodoric Meyer, "Concerned Veterans for America launches ads targeting Senate Democrats", Politico, October 20, 2015.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Peter Overby, "Koch Political Network Expanding 'Grass-Roots' Organizing", National Public Radio, October 12, 2015.
  15. Concerned Veterans for America, "New Online Ad Targets Florida’s Ninth Congressional District," organization press release, December 16, 2013. Accessed June 24, 2014.
  16. Concerned Veterans for America, Government Health Care Equals Disaster, YouTube video. Accessed June 24, 2014.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei, The Koch Brothers' Secret Bank, Politico, September 11, 2013.
  18. Ed O'Keefe, "What is the VA Accountability Act?," Washington Post, May 21, 2014. Accessed June 18, 2014.
  19. 113th Congress, S.2013 - Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014, draft legislation, February 11, 2014. Accessed June 18, 2014.
  20. Wesley Brown, "Concerned Veterans for America starts Veterans Affairs accountability project," Augusta Chronicle, February 24, 2014. Accessed June 18, 2014.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Concerned Veterans for America, "Concerned Veterans for America and Madison Rising Announce Defend Freedom Summer Tour 2014", organizational press release, April 21, 2014. Accessed June 18, 2014.
  22. Concerned Veterans for America, Issues, organizational website, accessed June 18, 2014.
  23. Al Shaw, Theodoric Meyer, and Kim Barker, "How Dark Money Flows Through the Koch Network," ProPublica, February 14, 2014. Accessed June 18, 2014.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, 2012 IRS Form 990, FY covering 11/1/2012-10/31/2013.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, 2014 IRS Form 990, 2014 calendar year.
  26. TC4 Trust, 2011 Form 990, organizational IRS Filing, May 14, 2013. On file with the Center for Media and Democracy.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Vets for Economics Freedom Trust, IRS 990, organizational tax filing, August 15, 2015.
  28. Vets for Economics Freedom Trust, 2013 IRS 990, organizational tax filing, August 13, 2014.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 Vets for Economics Freedom Trust, 2012 IRS 990, organizational tax filing, August 30, 2013. Accessed June 18, 2014.
  30. Concerned Veterans for America, Organizing Committee, organizational website, accessed December 9, 2015.
  31. Concerned Veterans for America, "Concerned Veterans for America Names Kathleen Volandt as North Carolina State Director," organizational press release, June 9, 2014. Accessed June 18, 2014.
  32. LinkedIn, Emily Laird, personal profile, accessed June 17, 2014.