Video: filling in for Rachel Maddow last night, Steve Kornacki talked to Kim Barker about Sal Russo’s schemes

Yesterday, Kim Barker of ProPublica exposed the “pro-troop” charity Move America Forward as a thinly-disguised money machine for longtime Republican consultant Sal Russo, the founder of Tea Party Express (TPE), who used it to give his PACs rent-free space and a mailing list. This organization is just begging for an IRS audit:

Even as nonprofit experts, officials from other charities, and former insiders have raised questions about Move America Forward, this year’s Troopathon appears to have gone off without a hitch on June 25.

Former presidential candidate Herman Cain, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and many others sent pre-taped endorsements that were shown at the seven-hour fundraiser.

Flanked by American flags, co-host Melanie Morgan, Move America Forward’s cofounder and board chairwoman, begged viewers to donate money. She said the charity wanted to send care packages to every service member in Afghanistan and Iraq, adding that the charity tried to keep its costs “very low” to maximize the resources going to service members. Dwindling resources in Afghanistan had left some troops hungry, making Move America Forward’s work more urgent than ever, she said.

“These care packages that we’re putting together are not just a luxury item anymore,” Morgan told one guest. “In some cases, they’re necessities.”

I call bulls**t: feeding soldiers consistently three times a day is one of the things that the US military is best at; NCOs whose troops starve generally don’t keep their stripes, and even small outposts are always covered in MREs. As a veteran, I’m intimately familiar with the thousand and one ways in which people grift on our cause as individuals and organizations, but what makes this story different is that Sal Russo has been subsidizing his political scam with a yellow ribbon.

Despite running one of the largest national tea party organizations, many grassroots conservatives have always been suspicious of Russo. As exemplified by his almost-liberal views on immigration, he is often seen as an establishment tool rather than a pure culture warrior, while TPE consistently spends less than 5% of its proceeds on political activities compared to about 40% on Sal’s firm and his employees.

But TPE got a big boost from Andrew Breitbart, who kicked off the first of the organization’s nationwide bus tours with his infamous “how dare they call us racists!” speech, and actor Gary Sinise’s presence at Russo’s fundraisers tells you just how connected he is to conservative Hollywood. Little wonder that mainstream coverage of his financial improprieties has so far never managed to harm him or his organization. As we’ve observed many times, the conservative circle of scam is normally a risk-free proposition; could this time be different? Maybe — but I’m not holding my breath.