Columns » Hightower

Cashing in on America

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Roger Chapin calls himself a "nonprofit entrepreneur." You might call him a money-grubbing huckster, or worse.

This San Diego business operator with big-name Republican connections has found a way to profit handsomely from the natural impulse of the American people to "support our troops." Chapin runs a number of military-themed charities under the umbrella of a group with the heart-tugging name Help Hospitalized Veterans.

Who could resist that appeal? Indeed, over two years, his groups collected $160 million in donations from generous Americans.

One group is called The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, and it has had the help of two retired generals to give weight to its solicitations. "I am proud to contribute my time and financial support to Salute America's Heroes," wrote retired Brig. Gen. Arthur Diehl III. Actually, Diehl didn't "contribute" his time, and much of the support flowed to him he was paid $5,000 a month by Chapin's charity. Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded George W's Iraq invasion, has also cashed in. Franks got $100,000 from Chapin for use of his name and for promoting the Salute group.

Meanwhile, the American Institute of Philanthropy gives Chapin's operation an "F" grade because only 25 percent of the money he collects goes to programs helping vets. The other 75 percent has gone to administrative costs, including $426,000 to Chapin in 2006, $113,000 to his wife for serving as "newsletter editor," $444,000 to buy a condo for the Chapins, $340,000 for such expenses as meals and entertainment, and even $17,000 for Chapin's golf-club membership.

These outfits seem confused on the concept of charity. It's "support" our troops, not exploit them. Jim Hightower is the author of Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush, on sale from Viking Press. For more, visit jimhightower.com.

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