Brown challenge benefits vets groups

Three local nonprofits see funds; critics see politics
By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein The Press-Tribune
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In what his campaign called an unprecedented effort to give back, retired Air Force Lt. Col. and Democratic District 4 Congressional candidate Charlie Brown on Thursday awarded to three local nonprofits proceeds from a pledge to donate a portion of his campaign funds to groups that serve the veterans community. But some local Republican opponents questioned whether the announcement has more to do with politics than altruism. Presenting a total of $17,500 to the organizations “ an amount the campaign said was 5 percent of all money raised “ Brown told the group of veterans, supporters and nonprofit leaders inside the headquarters of Roseville's The Gathering Inn that the five-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is a reminder of the sacrifices paid by all veterans, and the invaluable role nonprofits play when they return. What there should be no debate about is defending this country needs to be done and it comes at a cost, Brown said. This is not something that's about partisan politics. Veterans kept their promise to protect this country, now it's up to us to keep our promise to take care of them when they come home. Brown's campaign provided $10,000 to The Gathering Inn, an overnight shelter program for Placer County homeless; $5,000 to Francis House of Sacramento's Resource Counseling Center; and $2,500 to the Sacramento VA Community Team of Soldier's Angels, a group dedicated to supporting veterans care at VA hospitals. With today's economy, we're serving more families, more veterans and more individuals than ever before, said Suzi deFosset, executive director of The Gathering Inn. DeFosset added that the money raised would go toward maintaining year-round operations this year, rather than closing for the summer as it has done for the past three years. Brown spokesman Todd Stenhouse said the effort, dubbed the Promises Kept Veterans Charity Challenge, was designed to highlight the need to support the veterans community. The program narrowed applicants to three finalists last month, and an online poll determined how much each group would receive, he said. More than 2,000 people voted in the poll, according to the campaign's Web site. The challenge refers to asking other political campaigns to donate a portion of their contributions to charity. Stenhouse said the amount spent by the Veterans Administration on homeless services could be doubled if all candidates nationwide donated 5 percent of contributions to charity. So far, the effort has not produced any takers, he said. Brown, of Roseville, graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1972 and served 26 years in the Air Force, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1998. His son is currently preparing for his fifth tour of duty in Iraq. Brown is making his second attempt at the Congressional seat after losing narrowly to U.S. Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville, in 2006. Doolittle since announced he will not seek reelection this year. Former 3rd District Congressman Doug Ose, R - San Andreas, and state Sen. Tom McClintock, R - Thousand Oaks, have announced they will seek the Republican nomination. Brown did not mention his potential Republican rivals in a 10-minute speech, instead focusing on problems faced by returning veterans, including readjustment, addiction and homelessness. Up to 30 percent of Gathering Inn users are veterans, according to the organization. But a spokesman for Ose said the donations, while laudable in themselves, smacked of political expediency. As altruistic as it is, and admittedly it's a very positive effort, one just looks at it with suspicion and wonders whether it's politically driven, said Doug Elmets, spokesman for Ose. Asked whether the campaign would agree to donate a percentage of its funds to charity, Elmets said, When Doug Ose makes contributions, he doesn't do it in the context of a campaign or political expediency. He will do it quietly and we believe with probably more effect. Stan Devereux, a spokesman for the McClintock campaign, said he couldn't comment on what he said wasn't a real news story. But Air Force reservist and security consultant Maj. Eric Egland, who seriously considered a run for the Republican nomination before throwing his support behind McClintock, said he was appalled at what he called a feel-good campaign tactic. He's using veteran's care as a political prop, he said. I founded Troops Need You “ a nonprofit group to support the troops “ and we and we never issued a campaign press release. Stenhouse said the program was merely using the limelight of the campaign to focus attention on nonprofits doing good for veterans. This is not about Charlie, he said. It's about giving away funds and shining a light on problems and solutions.