Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden used his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to fundraise for a close union ally that is under investigation for misappropriating millions of dollars from firefighters' dues.
"[The firefighters] have now over 2,000 people affected by the virus," Biden told viewers of the late-night show. He urged them to donate to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Foundation. "I think they need help because they're the ones who are picking those folks up, dragging them out of a burning car."
The foundation Biden cited is led by one of his most important political allies, General President Harold Schaitberger. The IAFF—the first union to endorse Biden's presidential campaign—suffers from a "systematic misrepresentation in financial reporting," according to an internal probe penned by the union's general secretary-treasurer. Schaitberger himself has faced corruption accusations. The probe found that his administration misallocated millions of dollars from their designated purposes. Despite reviews from an auditing firm, the investigation still cannot account for $6 million, raising questions about how IAFF will handle donations that Biden requested.
"[W]e also found millions of dollars in financial misreporting and millions of dollars in nondiscretionary funds that were utilized for purposes unrelated to their designation," the audit found. "These problems and more are beyond our internal capabilities to address.… Note that these problems directly involve the General President of the International."
The IAFF Foundation was created to "help members and their families in their time of need, including assistance following natural disasters." Records show that the foundation spent twice as much on its staff as it did helping firefighters. The group spent approximately $222,000 of its $1.8 million expenditure in 2018 for grants and other assistance for its members, roughly 14 percent of total spending. Meanwhile, it paid roughly $483,000 on wages, pension accruals, and other benefits for its officials. Neither the foundation nor the union returned requests for comment.
Biden made those comments on Thursday, the same day the Washington Free Beacon informed the Biden campaign about the findings of the internal probe, and weeks after the probe was released. The Biden campaign has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
New Haven Fire Department battalion chief Frank Ricci, who also leads the Fire Union Local 825, questioned Biden's judgment for soliciting donations for a labor group with a poor financial track record.
"Joe Biden once again demonstrates poor judgment," Ricci told the Washington Free Beacon. "Why would anyone donate money to an organization where its own treasurer alleged that millions of dollars are unaccounted for at the hands of the IAFF president?"
The internal probe, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, also found that Schaitberger collected an estimated $878,060 from the union's pension fund since taking office in 2000, even though he did not qualify for the payouts because he had yet to retire. "Three separate law firms have advised in writing … that this was not allowed under the Internal Revenue Code," the audit said.
Ricci has previously raised concerns about how IAFF operates its foundation. Local 825 successfully cut ties from the state IAFF affiliate after lawyers from the nonprofit law firm Fairness Center uncovered what a judge declared a "plainly improper loan the state union took (and repaid) from its charitable affiliate." Schaitberger sided with state officials in the dispute, according to an affidavit filed in court. Ricci, whose executive board is still reviewing the union probe's findings, said his handling of the legal battle raised alarm bells.
"IAFF President Schaitberger stood by the CT UPFFA (Uniform Professional Fire Fighters Association) when the Fairness Center uncovered an improper loan taken from its charity. What makes Biden think the rats haven't infested the entire organizational structure?" Ricci said in an email.
Schaitberger and the IAFF are among Biden's closest allies in organized labor. Under Schaitberger's leadership, the union endorsed Biden on the first day of his campaign in April 2019. Its support continued well past the launch. Schaitberger frequently made appearances on Biden's behalf. The IAFF spent nearly $80,000 in campaign contributions and outside spending to bolster Biden's candidacy, according to disclosures filed with the Department of Labor.
But the 300,000 members of the union don't all share the union leadership's affinity for Joe Biden. More than 18,000 people signed onto an online petition demanding that IAFF withdraw the endorsement.