Analysis by Glenn Kessler, The Fact Checker
The Washington Post
I stand with our veterans and I’m going to donate every dime I make when I’m in Washington, D.C., to the veterans of the state of Alabama. Folks, they deserve it. They deserve it a lot more than most of us.”
— Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), in a Facebook campaign video, March 9, 2020
As senator, Tuberville has made veterans one of his key issues. The former football coach serves on both the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Armed Services Committee. He is now in a high-profile battle with the Biden administration over abortion policy affecting veterans. He has stalled the confirmation of more than 250 senior military officers over his objection to a Defense Department policy allowing military personnel and their families to recoup travel expenses incurred while seeking an abortion if they are stationed in a state that bans or restricts the procedure.
Yet there is no evidence that Tuberville has kept a key pledge he made when he ran for Senate three years ago — that he would “donate every dime” he made in Washington to Alabama veterans.
A U.S. senator earns $174,000 a year. We’re assuming that Tuberville was proposing to donate only his salary, not the substantial earnings he makes from his investments. (He has an estimated net worth of $20 million.) With Tuberville now having served 2½ years as senator, that would amount to a total of $437,000 in potential donations.
In the past decade, Tuberville has made contributions to veterans via a charitable organization, the Tommy Tuberville Foundation, that he established in 2014 after he was hired as football coach at the University of Cincinnati. His employment contract, which paid him a minimum of $1.6 million a year, stipulated that he donate at least $5,000 a month as a gift to the athletics department. For instance, in 2016 he paid for 150 season tickets for veterans in a section of the stadium dubbed Tubby’s Troops. The transaction was billed to the Tommy Tuberville Foundation, whose primary mission is “assisting our military and veterans.”
The Internal Revenue Service certified the Tommy Tuberville Foundation as a public charity in 2015, making donations to the organization tax-deductible. But a review of IRS filings made by the foundation show that very little has been spent on charitable causes — especially since he became a senator. Tuberville moved the charity to Alabama in 2018 after he left the coaching position in Cincinnati in 2016.
In 2021, the foundation reported it had $74,101 in revenue and spent just 12 percent of that, or $9,000, while $32,000 went to administrative costs (including nearly $12,400 to pay off a truck the charity purchased in 2018 for $27,369). In 2022, the foundation apparently had gross receipts of less than $50,000 and was required to file only a 990-N, known as a postcard, providing even less detail. (The test for filing a postcard considers the average of the past three years.)
The charity also filed a postcard in 2020, and in its 2021 filing it suggested it received no money at all in 2020. The charity generally provides little detail on how money is raised, but its 2018 filing cited fundraising through a golf tournament and speaking engagements. Most of the donations it reported were relatively small — $8,763 in 2015 and $13,245 in 2016 for “veterans home renovations” and $4,536 in 2018 for Flags for Vets. (The foundation filed the wrong form in 2017, so few details are provided, while 2019 and 2020 were also postcard filings.)
Laurie Styron, executive director of Charity Watch, an American Institute of Philanthropy charity watchdog, reviewed the Tommy Tuberville Foundation filings for The Fact Checker. She said that because of the postcard filings there was an “accountability black hole” about the charity that made it difficult “to understand if promises were fulfilled, or monitor a charity’s grants relative to its overhead spending.” The main reason the IRS permits small charities to file such limited data is so they can report they are still operating, she said.
“With respect to the $174k per year specifically, the 2021 990 Schedule A reflects that the charity didn’t report receiving contributions even close to this amount in any of the past 5 years,” Styron said in an email. “In fact, the charity reports receiving only $218k in contributions for the past 5 years combined. If he promised to donate his salary to vets, he certainly isn’t fulfilling this promise by donating to this particular charity.”
The 2021 filing lists Rodney Williams as the foundation chairman. Williams is an Alabama pharmacist who contributed to Tuberville’s campaign. He did not respond to a request for comment. Anna Harris, listed as the registered agent in the charity’s filing with the Alabama secretary of state’s office, said she had not worked for the charity for “a couple of years” and could not answer any questions.
The foundation’s Facebook page features articles on some veterans’ initiatives sponsored by the senator since he took office but does not feature any fundraising activity since a 2019 golf tournament.
The Fact Checker contacted nine veterans’ organizations represented on the Alabama State Board of Veterans Affairs. Three state affiliates — Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars — responded and said they have received no donations from either Tuberville or the Tommy Tuberville Foundation.
We also contacted other veterans’ organizations that the Tommy Tuberville Foundation Facebook page has indicated it has supported in the past. For instance, Still Serving Veterans is a Huntsville charity that helps veterans transition to civilian employment. “Still Serving Veterans received a small donation from the Tommy Tuberville Foundation in 2019 as the nonprofit beneficiary of a golf tournament he hosted, but we have not received any contributions since then,” said Debbie Joyner, chief development officer of the organization. Jamie Popwell, president of Flags for Vets, said the organization has received $500 in 2018, $1,000 in 2019 and $2,500 in 2020, but has not received any donation since then.
Tuberville’s staff indicated that thus far the senator had not lived up to his pledge.
“You are correct that Coach uses the Foundation as the primary vehicle for donating to veterans’ organizations, but it is by no means the only one,” Tuberville communications director Steven Stafford said in an email. “You may have learned by now that there were serious problems with the Foundation for a number of years, and that the Foundation came under audit. My understanding is that during the audit, the Foundation paused most of its activities.”
Noting that he was not speaking for the foundation, Stafford added: “The audit was recently completed successfully, and the Foundation is resolving its longstanding problems, resuming its activities, and Coach is resuming his work with the Foundation to help veterans in need.”
Asked whether Tuberville has failed to donate more than $400,000 to veterans, as promised, and whether he is still committed to do so, Stafford responded: “Coach is in the process of reforming the Foundation. He has already completely replaced the Board of Directors; he is resuming activities with the Foundation, and he will keep his promise to the veterans of Alabama.”
Six years of a senatorial salary would mean Tuberville would be on the hook for more than $1 million in donations.