Trump: While they debated, we raised $6M for vets

Two veterans groups said Friday they will be accept money raised by Donald Trump's campaign rally that was staged after the frontrunner decided to skip the last GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses. Other vet organizations said they were not so sure.

Dick Marbes, president of the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust, said in a statement to CNBC that Trump reached out after the event.

"We have been contacted and informed that a donation will be made by the Donald Trump Foundation to support our mission," Marbes said. "While we are grateful for this support, it is our sincere wish that all who seek public office will provide the American public with substantive information on their vision for the future of veterans' health care and benefits."

The trust is a nonpartisan organization that supports physical and psychological rehabilitation programs providing direct services to injured veterans. In his statement, Marbes was careful not to imply that his group was in any way affiliated with the Trump campaign.

"We hope all candidates will support our cause. We will use these funds to ensure our fellow veterans receive the care they have earned through their service and sacrifices," Marbes said. "The receipt of a donation from Mr. Trump's foundation does not imply an endorsement for his political campaign."

A U.S. Army veteran, waits to attend an appearance by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on August 11, 2015 in Birch Run, Michigan.
Getty Images
A U.S. Army veteran, waits to attend an appearance by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on August 11, 2015 in Birch Run, Michigan.

That comment mirrors concerns among veterans that their groups not be caught up in the political swirl of the Trump campaign — but tempted by the vast amounts of attention and money the Trump spotlight can bring. By law, many of the groups are organized as tax exempt nonprofits, and barred from participating in politics. And of course, many donors to veterans' groups are Democrats and the nonprofit leadership wants to be careful not to alienate them.

The Trump event, held Thursday night at Drake University, was hastily put together by the campaign after the billionaire real estate investor decided to skip the Fox News Channel debate the same evening. Trump announced his event would benefit veterans, but it was unclear exactly which groups would receive money. The Trump campaign said any money raised would first go to Trump's family charitable foundation. Trump said he had donated $1 million himself, and the investor Carl Icahn gave $500,000. Through the day Thursday, veterans groups were scrambling to figure out who would get the cash.

All told, the Trump campaign said the event took in $6 million for the Trump Foundation and the proceeds will be given to 22 organizations. (Click here for the list.)

Among the groups on the list was the Fisher House Foundation, which said Friday it would accept the donation because the money was coming from the Trump Foundation, which has supported the Rockville, Maryland-based group in the past.

"We would never be part of an event like that, nor would we take money from the Trump campaign," Fisher House vice president Kerri Childress said. "But Donald Trump has donated to Fisher House in the past, and his son Eric even hosted a golf tournament for us at one point. Because this money is coming from the Trump Foundation we can accept the money. We are very appreciative of his generosity in the past and we are at this point as well. We're very proud to accept the money and we will put it to the best use possible."

She said the foundation hadn't been told how much money it was to receive.

Speaking before the event, Fisher House Chief of Staff Mary Considine said she doubted her group would work with Trump. Considine said the group has three criteria for fundraising events: They must honor the service of veterans, be family friendly and be apolitical.

The founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paul Rieckhoff tweeted Thursday that his group would decline any donations from Trump's event. "We need strong policies from candidates, not to be used for political stunts," he wrote.

David Brog, executive director of the Air Warrior Courage Foundation, said before the event that he and other veterans were scrambling to find out more about Trump's intentions. "We are all wondering who he's doing this for, we have no idea," Brog said. "I'm not sure what the guy's doing. I stay out of it because the foundation can't be involved with politics."

Similarly, AMVETS' David Gai said: "We have to remain nonpartisan, especially those of us who are congressionally chartered. We are not actively participating in the event." Gai said he expected several AMVETS members would attend Trump's rally as audience members.

Still, large cash contributions are in scarce supply in the nonprofit world, and some groups said they would take Trump's donations even if they would not endorse his politics. Cherisse Young, the fundraising and marketing director of the Adaptive Sports Foundation, said there is a distinction between participating in an event and receiving a donation. "If he holds an event and collects money and contacts us and says 'I want to donate this money to you,' we could do that," Young said. "If he raises $100,000 and says we'd like you to be the recipient of it, that's just a straight donation."

Correction: An earlier version misspelled Paul Rieckhoff's last name and gave a wrong name of the Air Warrior Courage Foundation.