Veterans for a Strong America

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Veterans for a Strong America Action Group
Veterans header 01.png
Founder Joel Arends
Legal status Corporation
(formerly 501(c)(4) Super PAC[2])
Headquarters Sioux Falls, South Dakota[1]
Joel Arends
Dan Backer[3]
Revenue (2015)
Expenses (2015) $22,253[4]

Veterans for a Strong America (VSA) is a conservative[6][7] political action committee that describes itself as a "non-partisan action organization dedicated to educating the public, members of Congress and the Executive Branch about a strong national defense, robust foreign policy and building a military that is second to none."[8][9] The group was founded by Joel Arends of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who is also the chairman and sole staffer of the group.[10][11] Arends is an attorney and political consultant in Sioux Falls, where the organization is based.[12] He previously worked as the South Dakota field director for the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign and as a consultant to the Americans for Prosperity group, affiliated with the Koch brothers.[9] VSA has been described as a dark money group.[13][14]


Veterans for a Strong America is part of a "broader independent campaign by nonprofits linked to former Koch brothers operative Sean Noble," who runs the political consulting firm DC London.[15] The group was formerly registered as a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) ("social welfare") non-profit organization,[7][9] but the group's status was automatically revoked by the IRS[2] in August 2015[12] because it failed to submit tax reporting documents (Form 990s) for three years in a row.[8][9][11] The group is appealing the decision.[12]

"Veterans for a Strong America has a history of bombastic advertisements linked to outlandish plans and fundraising appeals."[15] In 2012, the group ran an advertisement, produced by DC London, which claimed that President Barack Obama had taken too much credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden.[15] At the time, Arends "declared that the 'swift boating' of the president had begun."[15] The effort was largely ineffective, and the group spent $750,000, a relatively small amount, on direct attack ads against Obama.[15]

According to the group's latest filing with the Federal Election Commission as of mid-September 2015, the group has assets of US$30, and debts of US$318, owed to a consulting firm in Washington, D.C..[12][16]

Christine Jones attack ad[edit]

In May 2014, VSA released an attack advertisement against Arizona businesswoman Christine Jones, who was running against Arizona State Treasurer Doug Ducey in the Republican primary for Arizona gubernatorial election.[15] The ad invoked the 2012 Benghazi attack and attacked Jones for "once writing kind words about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."[15] Jones' campaign criticized the ad as the "act of a desperate, fledgling campaign and their dark money allies who feel the need to go to this absurd association."[15] The ad was also produced by Nobel's DC London, which Arends called "a great partner to our organization."[15]

Trump campaign event[edit]

The group organized a campaign event for the Donald Trump presidential campaign of 2016 on the deck of the USS Iowa,[2] News reports in September 2015 following the event publicized the fact that the group had lost its tax-exempt status.[8][9][11]

The group's endorsement of Trump raised campaign finance questions as corporations are restricted to donating up to US$2,700 to a campaign; estimated event costs of US$11,000 paid by the VSA exceeded that amount,[2] although there is no substantive evidence that "contribution limits or other campaign laws were broken."[8] Other concerns raised include reports that the group does not appear to have any members or any relation with veterans.[11]

According to CNN, the group "sounds like a charity" despite having its tax-exempt status revoked.[12] The group claimed in a press release to have more than a half-million supporters, but a CNN investigative report "found scant evidence that Veterans for a Strong America has the supporters it says it does" and stated that "outside of Arends, CNN has found it difficult to find anyone with a direct link to the group."[12] Nonprofit Quarterly referred to the group as a "fake vet nonprofit."[9]

The VSA rose to notoriety in September 2015, after the Trump event. Attendees reportedly paid between $100 and $1,000 to attend the event.[12] The group issued a statement denying that the group had violated election law by organizing the event.[12] In an interview in September 2015, Arends said he was confident that the event was legal,[17] while acknowledging that the group's tax-exempt nonprofit status had been revoked, but said that these problems predated his tenure with the group, as well as the current board of directors.[17] Arends said that the group had disbanded in 2012 and was restarted by him in 2014.[17] Arends said that the "liberal media" was out to get his group[17] and that it was being attacked because they are endorsing Trump.[18] KSFY-TV reported that "Arends says he works in tandem with six volunteer board members and that he has a database of more than 500,000 members who have contacted the organization."[18]


  1. ^ a b "Veterans for a Strong America Association". Guidestar. Retrieved August 4, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Jeff Horwitz (September 16, 2015). "Veterans group hosting Republican candidate Donald Trump lost nonprofit status". Associated Press. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  3. ^ "FEC Form 3X: Report of Receipts and Disbursements For Other Than An Authorized Committee". United States Federal Election Committee. June 30, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "FEC Form 3X: Report of Receipts and Disbursements For Other Than An Authorized Committee". United States Federal Election Committee. December 31, 2015.
  5. ^ "Mission". Veterans for a Strong America. Retrieved August 4, 2016.
  6. ^ Malloy, Daniel (September 16, 2015). "From a battleship on Debate Eve, Donald Trump mostly holsters his guns". Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  7. ^ a b Andrew Perez & Paul Blumenthal, Benghazi Becomes Issue In Arizona Governor GOP Primary, Huffington Post (May 30, 2014).
  8. ^ a b c d Kelly Phillips Erb (September 17, 2015). "Vet Group That Endorsed Trump Lost Tax Exempt Status Months Ago". Forbes. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Rick Cohen (September 17, 2015). "The Fake Vet Nonprofit that Sponsored Trump's USS Iowa Speech on Veteran's Issues". Nonprofit Quarterly. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  10. ^ Adam Weinstein (May 4, 2012). "Meet the Astroturfer Planning to Swift Boat Obama". Mother Jones. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  11. ^ a b c d Steve Benen (September 18, 2015). "'Veterans for a Strong America' draws scrutiny". MSNBC. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h David Fitzpatrick & Drew Griffin (September 18, 2015). "Veterans group that hosted Trump lost tax-exempt status". CNN. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  13. ^ Mary Jo Pitzl, Dark-money group subject of new investigation, Arizona Republic (July 23, 2015).
  14. ^ Kevin Drum, Dark Money Group Darkens Obama's Skin Color in Ad, Mother Jones (May 7, 2012).
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Andrew Perez & Paul Blumenthal, Benghazi Becomes Issue In Arizona Governor GOP Primary, Huffington Post (May 29, 2014).
  16. ^ Drew Griffin (September 18, 2015). "Questions surround 'Veterans for a Strong America'". 22News WWLP (CNN). Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  17. ^ a b c d Dana Ferguson, Vets organization head says Donald Trump event was legal, Argus-Leader (September 18, 2015)
  18. ^ a b Allen, Brian (September 17, 2015). "Arends responds to Veterans for a Strong America allegations". KSFY - Gray Television, Inc. Archived from the original on 19 September 2015. Retrieved 19 September 2015.

External links[edit]