Monday, March 29, 2010

Following the money in Hannity-Freedom Alliance scam

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By Rick Ungar

Debbie Schlussel is back today with the next part of the Hannity-Freedom Alliance story, reporting that she has tracked down the source of the payment for the high priced goodies lavished on Hannity as he fronts for Ollie North’s military charity.

For those of you who may not have been following this story, Ms. Schlussel has done what few conservatives would be willing to do – take on one of her own. Given the price David Frum paid this week for taking on his own party – the loss of his job – it’s not hard to understand why attacking fellow conservatives, or even publicly disagreeing with them, can be a dangerous occupation.

In keeping with Freedom Alliance’s modus operandi of misleading while technically telling the truth, it appears that the private jets and other benefits that come with being Sean Hannity were, in fact, not paid for by the charity. However, the organization’s suggestion that Hannity paid for these high priced luxuries out of his own pocket – not quite so true. It now seems highly likely, if not a certainty, that the expensive travel benefits provided Hannity were paid for out of the ticket sales of the Freedom Concerts, the organization that promises that all net proceeds go to Freedom Alliance.

To get the ‘flavor’ of this thing, take a look at the Freedom Concerts web page. Pictured on the top of the page, in all his glory, is Sean Hannity. As you scroll further down the page, you’ll see the coming schedule of concerts for this year, followed by a photo of Col. Ollie North and then a message that reads, in part –

All net proceed from ticket (after musical talent, production, promotion and venue expenses) are donated to the Scholarship Fund, aiding greatly in this effort to assist hundreds of families who have lost their loved ones while they were protecting and defending our nation and our freedoms.
Via Freedom

Of course, the devil is always in the details.

Despite the great efforts taken to convince us that the Freedom Concerts are a function and extension of the Freedom Alliance charity, they are not. In fact, it turns out that the shows are profit-making ventures owned and operated by one Duane Ward of Franklin, Tennessee.

Who is Duane Ward? Schlussel reports that Mr. Ward just so happens to be Oliver North’s longtime PR man and the owner of Premiere Speakers Bureau, the speaking engagement agency for both North and Hannity, as well as many FOX News and other conservative personalities. The company also handles all the merchandising for Freedom Concerts and the Freedom Alliance and makes a pretty penny doing so.

In the past, tickets to Freedom Concerts have informed purchasers that approximately $4.00 of the ticket price goes to the cost of renting the concert facility with a guarantee of just $4.00-$4.50 being donated to Freedom Alliance- this on ticket prices that average about $65.00 (higher now according to the concert web page.) The organization then says that all proceeds remaining after costs goes to benefit the charitable purposes of Freedom Alliance which involves providing scholarships to the children of soldiers killed in battle and money for soldiers who return home with life changing injuries. Clearly, there’s a pretty healthy spread between the $8 to $10 accounted for and the remainder of the full ticket price.

So where does all this unaccounted for money actually end up?

Certainly, some of it is used to pay the performers -although Schlussel reports that many, if not most, performers are convinced to not only work for free but also cover their own traveling costs so that more money is available for the charity. As for the rest of it?

Schlussel has turned up multiple sources who confirm that the extravagant private jets and luxury hotel suites for Hannity and his entourage are paid from the revenues of the ticket sales when that money could – and if we are to believe the statements of Freedom Concerts and the Freedom Alliance – should be going to those who are listed as the beneficiaries of the Freedom Alliance charities. And while Mr. Wade refuses to turn over the books of Freedom Concerts, it would not be unreasonable to expect that there might be some profit in there for Mr. Wade and his company.

Nothing like a little good old-fashioned American patriotism for fun and profit, yes?

Apparently, the unseemliness of it all has not escaped the attention of Col. North, if not Mr. Hannity.

While those buying tickets think all of the proceeds of the concerts go to the Freedom Alliance, in fact, none of the proceeds go to the charity, only the $4 surcharge. The source confirmed that Premiere paid for Hannity (out of Freedom Concerts revenue) to fly to many of the concerts on private jets, along with his entourage, and the source confirms the conversation I described in my report last week, in which North scolded Hannity for wasting so much of the Freedom Concert money on private jets, swanky suites, and luxe SUVs. The source is the second source to confirm the conversation. The particular conversation cited took place in 2008, and there were several witnesses to it, including one of Hannity’s radio producers, who is married to Oliver North’s former personal assistant. Don’t look for her to tell the truth . . . if either of them ever wants to work again.

Via Debbie Schlussel

So, how do well-meaning Americans seeking to help our military men and women and their famlies get caught up in these questionable charity schemes?

You would be surprised.

Tomorrow, this page will report on how a federal government agency – existing precisely for the purpose of helping our 2 million plus federal employees make wise decisions when choosing a charity worthy of their donations – is badly misleading and misinforming the very people they are supposed to be helping.

You aren’t going to like what you learn.

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