Move America Forward, which has raised millions of dollars in recent years to send care packages to U.S. troops abroad, has repeatedly mounted misleading donor appeals and directed nearly a third of its spending to businesses linked to a politically active leader of the charity, according to ProPublica.
The Sacramento-based group has used photographs from other charities, major media outlets, stock-image catalogs, and soldiers' Flickr accounts in online fundraising pleas, with text suggesting the photos illustrated Move America Forward's activities. Last year its mailings touted a partnership with the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that the Defense Department says did not exist.
Move America Forward raised $7.8-million from 2008 to 2012. Its five most recently available tax returns list payments of $2.3-million—about 30 percent of its total spending—to Sal Russo, whom tax filings name as the charity's chief strategist, or his political consulting firm. Mr. Russo helped form the political action committee Our Country Deserves Better, also known as the Tea Party Express, and his firm established two other conservative political groups.
Mr. Russo and other current and former Move America Forward leaders did not respond to questions about the charity's appeals, activities, and spending. The organization asserts that it has sent 315 tons of care packages to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a statement to ProPublica, a Move America Forward spokesman said the charity spends donated funds "ethically and in the spirit of our mission to support the troops."