Government & Politics

Kris Kobach remains on board of veterans group that faced consumer warning

U.S. Senate candidate Kris Kobach continues to serve on the advisory board of a nonprofit veterans group that was under a consumer warning from the Better Business Bureau last year.

During his unsuccessful run for governor, Kobach, a Lecompton Republican, said he would conduct his own analysis of Veterans in Defense of Liberty’s finances before determining whether to remain a member of the nonprofit’s advisory board. That came after the Better Business Bureau’s St. Louis branch issued a consumer warning and F rating for the Missouri-based group.

The former Kansas secretary of state remains on the board.

“Kris Kobach did not abandon Veterans in Defense of Liberty after the false and poorly-researched news was printed about it,” said Kobach campaign manager Steve Drake, in a statement provided by Danedri Herbert, spokeswoman for Kobach’s Senate campaign.

The consumer warning for the group remains on the Better Business Bureau’s website, but the F rating was pulled the same month it was issued. The group currently has no rating.

The basis for the consumer warning was that American Target Advertising, the direct mail firm used by the nonprofit for fundraising, had kept 94 percent of the money it raised, according to the organization’s 990 form filed with the IRS.

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

Springfield-based Veterans in Defense of Liberty filed an amended 990 for the 2016 tax year in March last year following the consumer warning.

The initial filing with the IRS said the direct mail firm kept more than $1 million of the nearly $1.4 million raised for the nonprofit. The amended filing said it had kept less than $60,000.

Scott Magill, the executive director of Veterans in Defense of Liberty, said an error on the group’s 990 form made it look like the group spent more on fundraising than it actually did.

“But that being said it’s still very expensive. We take no government money. We take no corporate money,” Magill said. “To send that kind of mailing out is an extremely expensive event.”

Asked about Kobach’s role, Magill offered few specific details.

“We’ve got a lot of influential folks and we rely on their insight for guidance,” he said.

Magill maintains that his group was unfairly targeted by the bureau when the warning was issued last year.

“From my estimation it was an attack for other purposes,” Magill said in a phone call Thursday. “We are not a charity. Plain and simple. We are a 501(c)(4), a political advocacy group.”

Chris Thetford, spokesman for the St. Louis Better Business Bureau, said Magill’s group doesn’t currently have a rating because its 990 form for 2017 isn’t yet publicly available.

“We have insufficient evidence,” he said.

But Thetford said that the bureau stood by its initial consumer warning, which remains online with a clarification from the advertising firm about the costs of direct mail. He said if consumers want to write a check to the organization they should be aware that it’s not going toward a charitable cause.

“The real issue here… It was not conspicuously disclosed to people on their marketing materials that donations were not tax deductible,” Thetford said.

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