Instead of participating in Thursday’s GOP debate, hosted by Fox News, Donald Trump has said he wants to hold a fundraiser for wounded veterans. He should tread carefully, though: According to new reports, the Wounded Warrior Project spends almost as much on itself as it does on veterans.

In the past two days, both CBS News and the New York Times have published investigative stories on the Wounded Warrior Project, pointing to similar conclusions.

In 2014, CBS reports, the Wounded Warrior Project took in more than $300 million in donations. But while other, similar charities spend more than 90 percent of their budgets on veterans (i.e. Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust: 96 percent; Fisher House: 91 percent) WPP spends only 60 percent on vets.

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In 2009, the charity hired a new CEO, Steven Nardizzi, who (apparently) loves to party. According to tax forms, the charity’s spending on conferences and meetings ballooned from $1.7 million in 2010 to $26 million in 2014—which, incidentally, is about the same amount of money that it spends on its biggest program, combat stress recovery.

In 2014, Nardizzi organized a four-day, $3 million conference at a luxury resort in Colorado Springs. “He rappelled down the side of a building at one of the all hands events. He’s come in on a Segway, he’s come in on a horse,” one former employee told CBS.

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The Times describes the same incident, at the beginning of its story, in further detail:

In 2014, after 10 years of rapid growth, the Wounded Warrior Project flew its roughly 500 employees to Colorado Springs for an “all hands” meeting at the five-star Broadmoor hotel.

They were celebrating their biggest year yet: $225 million raised and a work force that had nearly doubled. On the opening night, before three days of strategy sessions and team-building field trips, the staff gathered in the hotel courtyard. Suddenly, a spotlight focused on a 10-story bell tower where the chief executive, Steven Nardizzi, stepped off the edge and rappelled toward the cheering crowd.

“Their mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors, but what the public doesn’t see is how they spend their money,” Army Staff Sergeant Erick Millette, an Iraq veteran with a bronze star, a purple heart, and PTSD, who worked for WPP for two years, told CBS. “You’re using our injuries, our darkest days, our hardships, to make money. So you can have these big parties.”

Nardizzi wouldn’t speak to CBS, but he did speak to the Times. “I look at companies like Starbucks—that’s the model,” he said. “You’re looking at companies that are getting it right, treating their employees right, delivering great services and great products, then are growing the brand to support all of that.”

Some nonprofit-watchdog groups have taken notice of WWP’s spending. From the Times:

Charity Watch, an independent monitoring group, gave Wounded Warrior Project a “D” rating in 2011 and has not given it a grade higher than C since.

Mr. Nardizzi fought back. In 2013, according to tax forms, the Wounded Warrior Project gave $150,000 to a nonprofit called the Charity Defense Council and Mr. Nardizzi joined its advisory board. The council’s mission includes defending charity spending on overhead and executive salaries, its website says.

In 2014, the Wounded Warrior Project lobbied in California and Florida to fight proposals that would have required nonprofits to increase financial transparency. Both bills passed in amended forms that did not significantly affect the charity, Mr. Nardizzi said.

Last year, the organization raised more than $372 million, in large part through small donations from people older than 65. The year before, Nardizzi was paid $473,000.


Photo of Steven Nardizzi via AP Images. Contact the author of this post: brendan.oconnor@gawker.com.