Former Student Association President Kris Hart is a vice chairman of a national Republican group suspected of using misleading fundraising tactics on the elderly. Hart, who is running for a seat on the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, refused to comment on the allegations.
An Oct. 28 Seattle Times article said the College Republican National Committee raised millions of dollars since 2001 partly by using official-sounding names such as “Republican Headquarters 2004” and “Republican Elections Committee” in a direct-mail fundraising campaign. The story said that many voters in their 80s and 90s donated to the groups, which they thought were affiliated with the Bush campaign. Instead, most of the money was spent on the direct-mail program and postage expenses for the college group.
Hart, a senior, declined to speak on the issue, saying, “I don’t really deal with day-to-day operations.”
But the CRNC Web site said Hart was directly involved with mailing initiatives since he became the group’s finance chair in 2002. “He has more than tripled the output of direct mail program while cutting costs, resulting in an exponential increase in CRNC fundraising,” the site (www.crnc.org) said.
Officials from the CRNC did not return calls from The Hatchet for this story.
Hart is also mentioned in a September 2003 article from the Center for Public Integrity, a publication that investigates the actions of the government and independent groups. In the article, Hart said the average check amount from donors to the CRNC was $28.
Derek Willis, a writer and database specialist for the Center for Public Integrity, said his group found that the CRNC was the 11th highest fundraiser among 471 committees analyzed.
“We decided to focus on them and answer the questions in our mind about how they were doing this,” he said. “How they were raising this much money as essentially a group of college students.”
Willis said the CRNC spent more than $10 million between 2001 and 2003 to promote Republican candidates and issues. He added that his group found that some donors, many of whom were elderly, thought they were giving to the Republican Party rather than a college organization.
“As far as if each of the solicitation letters were misleading, that is a concern,” he said.
While the CRNC’s fundraising tactics have been questioned in several publications, the group did not do anything illegal and will probably not be sanctioned for its actions, Willis said.
“There are no sort of regulations or at least very little on fundraising,” he said.
Willis added that the only way the group could get in trouble is if the Internal Revenue Service finds accounting discrepancies within the CRNC, but he said an IRS investigation is unlikely.
In response to the allegations of misleading fundraising tactics, some Foggy Bottom residents are questioning Hart’s ability to effectively represent their area of D.C. Hart is running against Dorothy Miller for a seat on the ANC-2A, a board that makes zoning recommendations to the city government.
“There is nothing innovative about scamming seniors for money – this group’s top donors were in their 80s and 90s – it is one of the oldest and dirtiest political tricks in the book,” wrote Elizabeth Elliott, board member of the Foggy Bottom Association, in an e-mail Friday night.
Elliott said Hart’s conduct shows he is “unsuitable to be an elected official, charged with protecting our residential community, the majority of whom are seniors.”