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July 2008 Archives

July 15, 2008

Vets for Freedom Says Thousands Of Donors -- We Count Five

In a recent story about Vets for Freedom's new campaign in support of Republican Presidential candidate John McCain, the Virginia-Pilot quoted VFFs Chairman Pete Hegseth on donor disclosure.

Vets for Freedom's efforts are being fueled by donations from thousands of people nationwide, Hegseth said. He said the group will not release donors' names nor the size of their donations. The group is registered under a section of federal tax law that allows it to advertise and organize on behalf of particular policies while maintaining the confidentiality of its donors.

Donations to political campaigns or political action committees, by contrast, generally must be reported and are limited by law.

Thousands of donations? We looked up Vets for Freedom's reporting records and found a total of five (5) donors and $2,050 total donations in the most recent period they reported. This reporting is for their "527" committee, which is legally allowed to " influence the nomination, election, appointment or defeat of candidates for public office" but is not allowed to coordinate with any candidate's campaign. However, their 501c4 charity arm, the part of the group that does not have to report its donors, can not legally do any of those things.

So what's the takeaway? On one hand, we have a 527 group with a total of $2,050 in donations, not enough to pay for Mark Penn's coffee break, and on the other we have a charity that legally can not be involved in direct political action? What's happening?

Well if you have "thousands" of mystery donors unreported but supporting John McCain's campaign and suddenly, a small fringe front group with just 5 real donors has over $1.5 million dollars to run a television campaign and there are plans for a major push this fall.

We're betting this is nothing more than a conduit for one or two very large donations intended to get around election law to the benefit of candidate McCain.

The Washington Post's blog The Trail tried to pin Hegseth down on why this "non-election" group is advertising with McCain's message in swing states important to McCain, and only just before an election with McCain as a candidate.

From the story,

Hegseth said his group is not operating on behalf of McCain and notes that federal law prohibits the organization from coordinating the ad with the campaign. The states were chosen, he said, not because they are crucial swing states for McCain, but because the heightened interest in the election in those states will give it a larger audience.

What Hegseth didn't mention is that VFF's ads were bought immediately after the McCain Campaign stopped advertising.

What Hegseth didn't mention is that VFF is supporting candidates across the country, but surprise, none of the Iraq War or Vietnam veterans who are running like Jon Powers or Charlie Brown.

What Hegseth didn't mention is that there are real veterans groups with real veterans signing real petitions and supporting a candidate, only those real veterans, are supporting Barack Obama.

The only thing Hegseth could do was concede that the message in the ad is almost identical to McCain's on the stump -- the surge worked; let's continue the war until we win. He said McCain has been the "strongest advocate" for the veterans of the two wars.

Which is about as believable as McCain's claim that real veterans groups support him.

July 17, 2008

"25,000 Members" But Only 5 Donors? Is This The New Math?

Earlier this week, we wrote about the Republican group, Vets For Freedom, and their ability to run $1.5 million dollars in TV advertising with seemingly no support.

In our blog post, we noted that the founder of the group was claiming thousands of donors. And the group claims to have 25,000 members. A number which if true might give a hint of credibility to their claims. However, when it is becoming increasingly clear that more and more real veterans are coming out in support of Barack Obama, is it possible that VFF actually has 25,000 members?

Well, we're not from Missouri but frankly, we'd have to see the membership roster to even believe that they have 2,500 members, why?

First, in their last report, they have exactly 5 donors listed. One, two, three, four, five. So unless their marketing efforts are truly horrific, to the tune of a .00000005 response rate, we have to believe that their member list is slightly inflated.

Second, if you look at their web site traffic on public sites, you'll see that the traffic is very very light; with some recent days in May hovering around zero, wouldn't a 25,000 member person organization have more than a couple of thousand total visits a month?

Unfortunately, many news organizations are taking the 25,000 numbers as a fact versus a 'claim' -- if we claimed that a million people read everything we wrote, it wouldn't make it true -- but who knows maybe people would start writing that -- just like we are seeing these.

There's an old expression, a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on, and today from the Guardian in London, we have proof.

The £750,000 campaign launched by the 25,000-member Vets for Freedom implicitly criticises the Republican senator's anti-war Democrat rival Barack Obama, who has stated he wants to withdraw combat forces within 16 months of taking office.

On the other hand, if Vets For Freedom really does have 25,000 veteran members, we'll post the whole membership list right here, just send us the names guys, we'll put everyone up.

After all, we can easily fit in five names right here.

July 23, 2008

Vets For Freedom NewsLadder Is Up: It's Fair and Balanced (Really)

We'd like to introduce the Vets for Freedom NewsLadder. Like all the NewsLadders that are up and running, this is a great place to find out all about an issue on one site with articles, blog posts, and videos linked up and voted up or down by readers like you.

At the Vets for Freedom NewsLadder we are linking to all of the stories and articles about this group and together we can ask, and potentially answer some very basic questions.

For example, there are lots and lots of stories about VFF supporting John McCain and wanting to stay the course in Iraq and keep our troops there literally forever, but how come there aren't any stories about VFF wanting John McCain to support the recent GI Bill?

Wouldn't a real veterans group be interested in that? Hmm.

Now, there are plenty of stories about VFF endorsing pro-war candidates but none about VFF endorsing Iraq vets who are running like Jon Powers in New York?

Wouldn't a real veterans group want to support veterans running for office? How odd.

And then what about Afghanistan -- where virtually every military group and veterans group agree, we should be doing more there.

Here are all of the articles about Vets For Freedom and what they think about Afghanistan.

(this space left intentionally blank because there aren't any)

Yes, a complete listing right there

We have recently written a few posts about Vets for Freedom. In our post, "Vets for Freedom Says Thousands Of Donors -- We Count Five", we asked how a group that had only five donors and $2050 in contributions in the most recent reporting period could say their 501c4 arm had "thousand" of donors and donations of over $1.5 million.

In our post "25,000 Members" But Only 5 Donors? Is This The New Math?" we noted the low traffic at their website and again asked about their claim to have "thousands" of donors. We urged the media not to fall for their "thousands of donors" line.

Soon we are going to write more about this "veterans" group. We have been looking into where this "veterans" organization stands on veterans issues. Early indications from the NewsLadder indicate that well, they don't.

We encourage everyone -- from the left and the right -- to join this effort and go sign up at the Vets For Freedom NewsLadder. This way people can see the stories and decide for themselves about the group.

July 31, 2008

Millions Of Dollars Versus Millions of Voters

In a democracy, every person has a single vote. Unfortunately, what is becoming increasingly true is that someone with millions of dollars and the willingness to fund front groups has the ability to influence millions of votes.

Take the issue of the Iraq War - by any and every national poll, millions of Americans want the war to stop as they see through the lies that got us in the war, the lies that have kept us in the war and now with even the Iraqi leadership asking we leave, the vast majority of Americans see no reason to fund billions on dollars in war every month.

However, despite their wishes and their votes, the wishes of the people are countered by the wishes of the few, or in today's example, the wishes of one, Sheldon Adelson. Mr. Adelson is one of the very few wealthy "behind-the-scenes" manipulators that set up phony front groups and fund them with millions and millions of dollars to pollute our country's discourse, smear people, spread fear and lies and the worst kinds of dirty stories. Every politician knows that this ugliness could be directed at them if they dare try to fight this kind of power.

Where do these Republican, pro-war front groups get so much money?

Thomas B. Edsell's July 25 post at Huffington Post, titled Sheldon Adelson: GOP's Answer To George Soros? provides us with a few clues.

Sheldon Adelson, the 74-year-old casino billionaire who has become the third richest man in America and who has strong ties to the hard-line Likud Party in Israel, has emerged this year a major benefactor of the American right.
Adelson has been a major backer of right-wing Republicans, including Tom DeLay, and has given $2.9 million to a Newt Gingrich organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future.

And now, according to Edsell,

. . .Adelson, according to the National Journal, has begun channeling cash and fundraising support to Vets for Freedom, which is expected to use the influx of money to finance what it claims will be a multimillion dollar "Four Months For Victory" ad campaign.

Why does a wealthy Jewish casino owner, so rich that he is flown around in his own Boeing 767, support a veteran's organization? Probably because Vets For Freedom isn't really a veteran's organization, but a Republican Party front group working to elect John McCain and keep the Iraq war going.

If Vets For Freedom was a veteran's organization, they would be front and center in holding John McCain responsible for voting against the new G.I. Bill? But they didn't say a word.

If Vets For Freedom was a veteran's organization, they would be concerned with the hundreds of thousands of returning wounded warriors and their need for care and assistance? But they're not.

In fact, Vets For Freedom has only one mission - build public support for continuing the war in Iraq and now it appears they really only have one donor - a hard line neoconservative who is determined to influence US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Adelson is also a major funder of Freedom's Watch, another Republican front group that exists solely to help wealthy individuals like Adelson get around campaign finance laws that are designed to protect our democracy from this kind of dollars-outweigh-votes corrupting influence.

These organizations are allowed to take unlimited donations and not disclose donors because they are supposed to be educating the public about issues, not polluting our elections with ads that support or smear candidates. But, of course, who in the Bush government is going to stop them from breaking our campaign finance laws to support Republicans and smear Democrats?

In Israel Adelson has purchased a newspaper that he uses to try to influence Israeli politics. According to some, he inspires resentment and fear there. A recent New Yorker article about Adelson says,

"In Israel, where political, academic and business leaders tend to be outspoken, there is a striking reticence at the mention of Sheldon Adelson. Even people who are diametrically opposed to his politics refuse to be interviewed. 'There is a discernible amount of self-censorship going on,' the liberal Israeli-American writer Bernard Avishai said. 'There is no ideological justification for what Sheldon is doing among the Israeli intelligentsia and a revulsion at an American weighing in so heavily on Israeli politics, in such a crude, reactionary way. But they won't speak.'"

Post-Script: As we were about to publish it, news comes that Sheldon Adelson has hired Karl Rove with a mid six figure deal to help run "Freedom's Watch" another right wing front group.

About July 2008

This page contains all entries posted to Smoking Politics in July 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2008 is the previous archive.

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