WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revoked the nonprofit status of the veterans benefit organization that hosted and sold tickets to a foreign policy speech by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump aboard the U.S.S Iowa battleship, PPD has confirmed. While the decision was immediately characterized as suspect by some, the IRS issued its decision to revoke the state for Veterans for a Strong America on Aug. 10, citing the group’s failure to file any tax returns for three consecutive years, according to IRS records.
“We disagree with the IRS determination letter,” said the group’s chariman Joel Arends, who appeared alongside Trump on Tuesday night on the ship.
Arends of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said the organization was appealing the IRS decision, though the AP claims he would not provide them with copies of any tax returns.. By law, such records are supposed to be available to the general public for inspection.
Further, the group’s endorsement of Trump, who is currently the Republican frontrunner, could pose more legal questions in the future, though it is unclear what more the IRS can do with the Department of Justice. Regardless of its legal status as a nonprofit, corporations are restricted to donating $2,700 either in cash or in-kind contributions to a campaign. But the event, which Veterans for a Strong America paid for, involved 850 attendees, putting the cost at roughly $11,000.
U.S. law also generally prohibits candidates from coordinating their campaign activities with outside groups, and prohibits corporations from spending more than a minimal amount announcing their endorsements.
“You can do what you want so long as you’re independent. But if the FEC finds coordination, a whole lot of rules kick in,” Kenneth Gross, a former Federal Election Commission attorney who now works for Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom LLP in Washington told the AP.
The event was advertised differently than Trump’s regular campaign events. His campaign didn’t distribute the usual media advisory with details, but did include it in his upcoming campaign schedule. Reporters were instructed to contact the veterans group to obtain credentials to attend, and Trump’s campaign separately urged supporters in a mass email how to obtain tickets to the event.
The group had told ticket buyers that all proceeds would be used to pay for the event “and helping out Vets for a Strong America carry out its mission of helping America’s vets.” However, Arends and Trump’s campaign outwardly dismissed questions about whether the event was legal.
“The FEC has ruled that a candidate may attend, speak at, and be a featured guest at such events,” the Trump campaign said in a statement to the AP.
“We’ve got top national election law attorneys that advise and consult with us,” Arends said. He said the media and IRS’ take on the restrictions on nonprofits’ endorsements of political candidates, as it relates to the group’s specific situation, are not being accurately represented following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the campaign finance case known as Citizens United.
In the “About US” section of their website, the groups states “Veterans for a Strong America is a grassroots action organization committed to ensuring that America remains a strong nation by advancing liberty, safeguarding freedom and opposing tyranny.”