Recently Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington alleged that Sean Hannity’s Freedom Concerts violated its charitable tax status. Specifically the group alleges that Hannity’s Freedom Concerts engaged in deceptive and illegal marketing practices by suggesting that all revenue from concert ticket sales goes to scholarships for the children of killed or wounded service members. CREW and VoteVets, a veteran’s advocacy group, have filed complaints with the IRS and the Federal Trade Commission regarding the Freedom Concerts, the group Freedom Alliance, and the founder of Freedom Alliance, Lt. Col. Oliver North.
If you are like me you have probably never heard of these Freedom Concerts which Hannity and the Freedom Alliance put on together. I checked out the website and found out that I could be treated to a show by Michael W. Smith, Lynyrd Skynrd , and Charlie Daniels Band in eight cities including Atlanta, Dallas, and Las Vegas this coming August.
According to the website all revenue from concert sales goes to scholarships for service members who have been killed or 100% disabled in an “operational mission or training accident.” However, the information carries the caveat that musical talent, production, promotion, and venue expenses are deducted first. It is unclear to me whether Freedom Alliance included this caveat in its materials before or after the allegations from CREW.
Every endeavor, including a charitable one, has expenses but it is the nature of the expenses that is troubling in this instance. CREW and VoteVets alleged at a joint press conference that 80-90% of the money raised at the Freedom Concerts goes to overhead, not scholarships.
Debbie Schlussel, a conservative blogger, reported that recently only between 4% and 7% of the money raised went to its primary cause, while millions went to consultants and high end transportation, including private planes, for Hannity. According to Schlussel, the average amount for scholarships during this period? No more than $6,000 for some, and few getting more than $1,000-$2,000.
According to its 2006 tax returns, Freedom Alliance’s revenue was $10,822,785 and the organization contributed 3.68% to scholarships or other aid to fallen soldiers. If you are wondering, 3.68% means that out of the millions reported by Freedom Alliance, less than $400,000 of which went to the charity’s principal aim. In 2007 Freedom Alliance got a little better and actually donated 7% or almost $900,000 to seriously wounded soldiers and scholarships. However, this is out of the $12,459,317 raised that year.
Schlussel also reported, based on an anonymous source, that North pulled Hannity aside at one of the concerts and told him that the expenses used by Hannity’s entourage had to stop. The expenses reportedly included a Gulfstream 5 to fly Hannity and his family to the concert, several SUVs for transportation to the event, and suites at expensive hotels on location at the event. This information comes from an anonymous source and has been disputed by Freedom Alliance. But perhaps it would be better for Freedom Alliance if these claims are true. Because if they are false, then where is the money?
MediaMatters verified the numbers from Schlussel’s story but at the same time acknowledged that Freedom Alliance has a broader mission than the Freedom Concerts and that there is no indication that the millions of dollars are not being spent in some worthwhile endeavor to support that cause. In fact, MediaMatters did not seem to put too much faith in Schlussel’s claims but the tax returns are not great evidence of an upright charity.
That takes us back to the complaint filed by CREW. When we compare this to the initial reporting in 2007 on this issue it must lead one to believe that where there is smoke there is fire.
But the bigger issue, at least in my opinion, is the lack of serious reporting on this issue by the mainstream media. Blogs have risen in importance recently but why the here today, gone today, interest by the news media? It appears that a major conservative commentator is possible using the war dead and maimed to advance his own career, and no one seems to care. Do the media only care about attacking conservatives when they can score direct political points for liberals? Or, are we reverting back to that dark time when returning soldiers were cast off as an afterthought? I think it might be a little of both.
This exploitation of service members has to stop. Is there a role for Veteran’s here? Do we need to do more to protect the legacy of our dead and fallen comrades?