Accusations Fizzle Against Congressional Candidate David Bellavia

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

BellaviaAn accusation of misappropriation of charity funds against a veteran and Congressional candidate appears to be coming apart under scrutiny.

David Bellavia, an Iraq War combat veteran, Silver Star recipient, author and Congressional candidate has been caught up in a flap over a charity he helped co-found. Bellavia, currently running as a Republican for the 27th district of New York, co-founded the Warrior Legacy Foundation – a non-partisan organization that is “committed to the protection and promotion of the reputation and dignity of America’s warriors,” as well as Vets for Freedom, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping elect veterans to public office.

Bellavia is currently locked in a primary election battle against County Executive Chris Collins for the Republican nomination. The winner will run against Democratic incumbent Kathleen C. Hochul in the general election in November.

At issue: One Marian Gray wrote a letter to a local newspaper detailing an encounter with Bellavia, describing Bellavia’s relationship with his charity. The letter stated that Gray questioned Bellavia about his source of income since being discharged from the Army. The also letter asserted that Bellavia had “no visible means of support,” other than being supported by his charity operation, and that Bellavia was “evasive” when questioned about how he was supporting himself.

The letter concluded by accusing Bellavia of using his charity to support himself and to pay himself to run for Congress:

“Obviously after discharge, he has not held a “real” job. His “charity” as he calls it is for himself. Even if he did contribute to another’s campaign, this alleged foundation is basically for his own material gain. David Bellavia has neither legislative experience nor any apparent intellectual skills indicating he could represent anyone but himself. His vague and clearly inadequate responses and his own description of his life border on my definition of sleazy.”

Bellavia is the author of the critically-acclaimed House to House: An Epic Memoir of War, which was published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. House to House, an account of the vicious 2nd Battle of Fallujah of 2004 – the battle in which Bellavia was recommended for his Silver Star, was one of the most commercially successful memoirs of the War on Terror. Recently, Bellavia and his publisher signed a deal with an Oscar-winning Hollywood director to make a movie version of Bellavia’s book – which would seem to account for his recent ability to support himself and his family. Bellavia co-wrote and sold the screenplay.

As of this writing, Charitynavigator.org had no independent review of the operations of the Warrior Legacy Foundation or of Vets For Freedom.

However, the Vets for Freedom IRS Form 910 tax filing is a matter of public record, and Bellavia has released his tax returns from 2006 to 2011 for local journalists to inspect at a press conference on 30 April. Bellavia and stood by to answer questions from the press as they examined his tax returns. According to the Buffalo News, which reviewed the tax returns, the bulk of Bellavia’s income since his discharge from the Army has come from his authorship of House to House, though he has also received compensation at various times as an executive for Steuben Foods and from his work with running a Washington charity foundation.

Bellavia has received a number of milestone payments from his authorship over the last five years, including additional payments upon the release of the paperback edition, translation into additional languages, the sale of international rights, film rights and the sale of the screenplay itself.

Vets for Freedom has donated $1,000 to Congressional races in the 2012 cycle thus far – all to Josh Mandel, a Republican in Ohio, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (OpenSecrets.org). In the 2010 cycle, Vets for Freedom donated $500 to Sean Bielat, a Republican running in Massachusetts.

However, the Vets for Freedom 2009 tax filing (IRS Form 910) lists $75,000 in compensation to Bellavia, for an average of 40 hours per week of work. During that time, Bellavia declared that income on his 2008 individual tax return, according to a campaign source. Vets for Freedom’s tax filing also lists compensation to Pete Hegseth, the VFF president, of $100,000 that year – also for 40 hours per week of work. This was against revenue of $8.72 million that year.

As of March 31, the David Bellavia campaign had raised $31,970, had spent $33,019 and had $7,109 in cash on hand according to OpenSecrets.org. He had not taken any money from political action committees, or PACs; all but $305, which Bellavia had contributed himself, came from individual contributions.

In contrast, the incumbent Representative, Democrat Kathleen Hochul, had raised over $2 million, including $250,000 of her own money. 24 percent of her campaign contributions had come from political action committees.

OpenSecrets listed no data on Collins’ campaign opposing Bellavia’s in the primary election. As of this writing, the Collins campaign has not released any recent tax returns on the candidate.

 

Are you following this congressional race? What are your thoughts on the accusations against Bellavia? Do you think we need more candidates with military experience as their main resume item? Tell us in the comments!

 

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3 responses to “Accusations Fizzle Against Congressional Candidate David Bellavia”

  1. DWICOLLINS says:

    You don’t mention that Vets for Freedom needed a 20k loan to make ends meet the year that Bellavia and his partner took 170k meant for veterans.

  2. Michael Caputo says:

    DWICollins is confused. Vets for Freedom is NOT a charity, it was a 527 political organization dedicated to electing combating veterans to Congress. The 527’s budget was over $10 million and the political programming involved in the effort took professional management and hundreds of hours of work. David Bellavia earned every penny he was paid in 2008.  
     
    DWICollins is an anonymous hater of combat veterans without the guts to put his name to his words. He’s also not very good at what he does – stooping to whatever level is necessary to discredit bona fide American heroes. 
     
    My advice to DWICollins: man up, put your name to your words, or keep your inane thoughts to yourself.

  3. Thanks to all for responding. I’m the author of the post.  
     
    I did look closely at the issue and the filings, but I did not see much of a story for our readers in DWICollins’ comments for these reasons: 
     
     
     
    1. As Mr. Caputo notes, Vets for Freedom is a 527 org, not a charity (charities are typically organized under IRC Section 501(c)(3). So this money was never meant for “veterans,” but for political campaigns.  
     
     
     
    I also compared the compensation to principals (100k in salary to Pete Hegseth, and $75,000) to David Bellavia) to the total size of the fundraising effort. The salaries generated, as a percentage of assets raised, was not at all out of line for an organization of its type. 
     
     
     
    Next, political organizations borrow money all the time, as do campaigns. There is nothing whatsoever remarkable about this. Lots of campaigns still have outstanding campaign debt, to be paid off over time. In the absence of any evidence of default or defrauding, there’s nothing there that I found out of the ordinary. 
     
     
     
    Also, it’s pretty easy to imagine an organization paying a salary to two people all year, raising funds all year, and then having an end-of-year shortfall as fundraising efforts dry up because of the holidays, economic issues, a disruption of the core of donors, etc.  
     
     
     
    So I didn’t see anything noteworthy in the things that DWICollins alleges, even aside from incorrectly assuming that Vets for Freedom was a charity and not a 527.

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