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Kobach sits on board of veterans group that isn’t using money to help veterans

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach sits on the advisory board of a Missouri-based veterans’ group that received a failing grade from the Better Business Bureau this week.

Kobach, a candidate for Kansas governor, is listed as a member of the advisory board for Veterans in Defense of Liberty, a Springfield-based nonprofit with a stated mission of upholding the Constitution.

He said he would be reviewing the group’s finances after a Better Business Bureau report that found only a small fraction of the group’s money actually goes toward veterans’ issues.

“This is the first I’ve heard of any suggestion that the monies raised by the charity aren’t going to the various causes for veterans,” Kobach said Thursday.

The Better Business Bureau investigated the group after a Kansas man asked the business watchdog about a mailer he’d received asking for donations.

“This Sweepstakes is part of our efforts to fix the broken and corrupt Veterans Affairs Department,” the mailer stated, according to the Better Business Bureau. “We still have a lot of work to do to ensure that our sick, wounded and disabled veterans are provided with the quality health care they need and deserve.”

The mailer also stated that donations would not go toward paying a sweepstakes prize.

However, the Better Business Bureau noted in a consumer warning Wednesday that “very little of the money it collects goes to veterans either.”

The bureau, which reviews the integrity of charities and businesses, gave Veterans in Defense of Liberty an “F,” the lowest possible grade on its scale.

A review of the group’s 2014 and 2015 filings with the Internal Revenue Service showed that 94 percent of the money donated to the group went to fundraisers, according to a news release from the Better Business Bureau.

“When you donate to a cause, you want to make sure your money is going to help,” said Michelle Corey, the president and CEO of the St. Louis chapter of the Better Business Bureau. “With these mailers, it appears that the professional fundraisers who organize the campaigns are benefiting the most from contributions.”

Kobach said he joined the group’s advisory board roughly six years ago because he cares “deeply about veterans and veterans’ issues.” He said this was the first time he’d received any indication “that the organization hasn’t been a good steward of its resources.”

Kobach, who noted that his board position is unpaid, said that he would review the organization’s financial records to determine whether to sever ties with the group.

“I’m going to ask the executive director to give me a full accounting of the organization’s resources. … I want to see the numbers myself before I make any decision,” he said.

Kobach, a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, does not have a military background. The group’s website states that non-veterans may serve on the advisory board but are “not necessarily eligible for membership in the organization as a whole.”

Kobach said that his understanding was that money donated to the group was “going to a variety of causes for veterans … and also to support political causes and issues important to veterans as well.”

Veterans in Defense of Liberty’s website includes a July 2017 post calling on veterans to support the push to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“Brothers and sisters, let us stand strong to our oath! We can no longer sit back and bitch ‘n moan,” the post states.

“We must realize, Americas future rests on our shoulders. President Trump is fighting to make America great again, but he cannot do it alone — we must stand strong and fight for and support him.”

American Target Advertising, the Virginia-based firm that produced the mailers for the veterans’ group, kept $498,316 of $517,048 it raised for Veterans in Defense of Liberty in 2014, according to the bureau.

The following year American Target Advertising kept $525,468 out of $555,764 it collected for the group.

William Scott Magill, executive director of Veterans in Defense of Liberty, did not respond to an email, but the Better Business Bureau noted in its release that he called these payments to fundraisers the “cost of doing business.”

Magill told the bureau that his group is “out here trying to do the right thing. If people don’t want to help, they don’t have to. Just throw the damn mailer away. If you don’t want us to mail it to you, we won’t mail it to you.”

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3