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Thread: Big Coffers And A Rising Voice Lift A New Conservative Group

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2005

    Big Coffers And A Rising Voice Lift A New Conservative Group

    Big Coffers and a Rising Voice Lift a New Conservative Group


    Freedom’s Watch, a deep-pocketed conservative group led by two former senior White House officials, made an audacious debut in late August when it began a $15 million advertising campaign designed to maintain Congressional support for President Bush’s troop increase in Iraq.

    Founded this summer by a dozen wealthy conservatives, the nonprofit group is set apart from most advocacy groups by the immense wealth of its core group of benefactors, its intention to far outspend its rivals and its ambition to pursue a wide-ranging agenda. Its next target: Iran policy.

    Next month, Freedom’s Watch will sponsor a private forum of 20 experts on radical Islam that is expected to make the case that Iran poses a direct threat to the security of the United States, according to several benefactors of the group.

    Although the group declined to identify the experts, several were invited from the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington research group with close ties to the White House. Some institute scholars have advocated a more confrontational policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, including keeping military action as an option.

    Last week, a Freedom’s Watch newspaper advertisement called President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran “a terrorist.” The group is considering a national advertising campaign focused on Iran, a senior benefactor said, though Matt S. David, a spokesman for the group, declined to comment on those plans.

    “If Hitler’s warnings were heeded when he wrote ‘Mein Kampf,’ he could have been stopped,” said Bradley Blakeman, 49, the president of Freedom’s Watch and a former deputy assistant to Mr. Bush. “Ahmadinejad is giving all the same kind of warning signs to us, and the region — he wants the destruction of the United States and the destruction of Israel.”

    With a forceful message and a roster of wealthy benefactors, Freedom’s Watch has quickly emerged from the crowded field of nonprofit advocacy groups as a conservative answer to the nine-year-old liberal, which vehemently opposes the Iraq war.

    The idea for Freedom’s Watch was hatched in March at the winter meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Manalapan, Fla., where Vice President Dick Cheney was the keynote speaker, according to participants. Next week, the group is moving into a 10,000-square-foot office in the Chinatown section of Washington, with plans to employ as many as 50 people by early next year.

    One benefactor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the group was hoping to raise as much as $200 million by November 2008. Raising big money “will be easy,” the benefactor said, adding that several of the founders each wrote a check for $1 million. Mr. Blakeman would not confirm or deny whether any donor gave $1 million, or more, to the organization.

    Since the group is organized as a tax-exempt organization, it does not have to reveal its donors and it can not engage in certain types of partisan activities that directly support political candidates. It denies coordinating its activities with the White House, although many of its donors and organizers are well connected to the administration, including Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary.

    “Ideologically, we are inspired by much of Ronald Reagan’s thinking — peace through strength, protect and defend America, and prosperity through free enterprise,” Mr. Fleischer said.

    Among the group’s founders are Sheldon G. Adelson, the chairman and chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, who ranks sixth on the Forbes Magazine list of the world’s billionaires; Mel Sembler, a shopping center magnate based in St. Petersburg, Fla., who served as the ambassador to Italy and Australia; John M. Templeton Jr., the conservative philanthropist from Bryn Mawr, Pa.; and Anthony H. Gioia, a former ambassador to Malta who heads an investment group based in Buffalo, N.Y. All four men are long-time prolific donors who have raised money on behalf of Republican and conservative causes.

    For years, the group’s founders lamented MoveOn’s growing influence, derived in large part from its grass-roots efforts, especially on the debate about the Iraq war. “A bunch of us activists kept watching MoveOn and its attacks on the war, and it just got to be obnoxious,” said Mr. Sembler, a friend of Vice President Dick Cheney. “We decided we needed to do something about this, because the conservative side was not responding.”

    Mr. Sembler, who is on the board of directors of the American Enterprise Institute, said the impetus for Freedom’s Watch “came out of A.E.I.” last winter. He said that at an institute event in December 2006 he listened to retired Gen. Jack Keane and Frederick W. Kagan, an A.E.I. scholar, talk about the need for a troop increase in Iraq, a plan adopted by Mr. Bush in January. “I realized it was not only what we needed to do,” Mr. Sembler said, “but we needed to articulate this message across the country.”

    Mr. Sembler also said he was frustrated that he heard reports at institute events earlier this year that the increase was working, but that the news media was not reflecting the progress.

    Mr. Fleischer said: “After the president announced the surge, and even Republicans started getting nervous, there was a palpable fear among several of us that this fall Congress was going to cut off the funding and the Middle East would explode and America would likely get hit. It really wasn’t much more complicated than that.”

    Over the summer, Mr. Fleischer and the other founders recruited a president, choosing Mr. Blakeman, who served as a deputy assistant to the president in charge of scheduling and appointments. In 2000, Mr. Blakeman led the Bush-Cheney campaign’s public relations effort during the 36 days of the deadlocked election. He left the White House in January 2004.

    Mr. Blakeman and Mr. Fleischer said they intended to turn Freedom’s Watch into a permanent fixture among Washington advocacy groups, waging a “never-ending campaign” on an array of foreign policy and domestic issues. They also hope to build an active, grass-roots support network.

    But Eli Pariser, the executive director of, which was founded in 1998 by two Silicon Valley venture capitalists, said he doubted the group’s ability to meet that goal.

    “This is the fourth or the fifth group that intends to be the right-wing MoveOn,” Mr. Pariser said, naming other fledgling groups like and “So far, it’s not clear that this group is anything other than a big neoconservative slush fund. They are a White House front group with a few consultants who are trying to make a very unpopular position on the war appear more palpable.”

    Like Freedom’s Watch, MoveOn had its origins in an attempt by wealthy political donors, including George Soros, to shape the debate in Washington. MoveOn began shortly after the Starr report was delivered to Congress in September 1998, detailing accusations of perjury and obstruction of justice against President Bill Clinton.

    Already, Freedom’s Watch and MoveOn have clashed through competing advertisements over Gen. David H. Petraeus’s war progress report to Congress earlier this month.

    In one Freedom’s Watch ad, Sgt. John Kriesel, a National Guardsman from Stillwater, Minn., who lost his legs in a bomb attack near Falluja, pleads with Congress and the American people not to “surrender” in Iraq. As the screen shows a still photograph of the second hijacked plane bearing down on the burning World Trade Center, Sergeant Kriesel adds, “They attacked us, and they will again. They won’t stop in Iraq.”

    Several of the group’s spots suggested that Iraq, rather than Al Qaeda, was behind the Sept. 11 attacks, even though the independent Sept. 11 commission investigation and other inquiries found no evidence of Iraq’s involvement. But in August, when the organization rolled out the advertisement with Sergeant Kriesel to two focus groups in Pennsylvania, its upbeat, patriotic message was well received, even causing a few viewers to weep, Mr. Blakeman said.

    “The focus groups couldn’t tell whether it was a Republican ad or a Democratic ad,” he said. “It was the voice of a soldier, and that’s the message we want to deliver to Americans: listen to the opinions of real people.”

    The campaign was seen as a way to head off any momentum in Congress toward halting the financing for the Iraq war. The group’s advertisements, placed in nearly 60 Congressional districts in 23 states, targeted wavering moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats.

    Freedom’s Watch also pounced on’s full-page “General Betray Us” advertisement published Sept. 10 in The New York Times. Mr. Bush called the advertisement “disgusting.” Both chambers of Congress passed resolutions condemning the advertisement. The New York Times was also embroiled in the debate after giving MoveOn a discounted price for the advertisement, which the newspaper later acknowledged was a mistake. MoveOn has since agreed to pay the difference.

    That advertisement, Mr. Blakeman said, “was an unexpected gift,” allowing Freedom’s Watch to “take the high road” and demonstrate that it is a “conservative voice that is not divisive.”

    Mr. Pariser, of MoveOn, said his group’s grass-roots membership — it claims 3.3 million members — was the envy of Freedom’s Watch. “I think people see that Freedom’s Watch is a few billionaires, and not a large, mainstream constituency,” he said.

    Mr. Blakeman denied the accusation that Freedom’s Watch is a White House front group. “I don’t need their help,” he said of his former colleagues at the White House. “I don’t seek their help. And they don’t offer it.” Mr. Blakeman is a long-time friend of Ed Gillespie, the new counselor to Mr. Bush who succeeded Dan Bartlett. Mr. Blakeman said that he speaks with Mr. Gillespie, but that they are careful not to discuss the activities of Freedom’s Watch.

    Mr. Fleischer said Freedom’s Watch was not coordinating with the White House and had an agenda beyond the Bush administration. “On Jan. 21, 2009, what will these critics say when we are still here, doing the same thing?” he said. “We will still be here after George Bush is gone.”
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  2. #2
    simuvac Guest
    I think I posted this story last week:

    Maybe I shouldn't have given it such a colorful title? :-)

    I can't believe the money men who sponsor the president-aggressor of the nation that illegally invades two Middle Eastern countries feel they have the legitimacy to accuse the non-aggressor-president of Iran of being "Hitler".

    To my dying day, I will marvel at how such propaganda works. If you just keep repeating something -- anything -- eventually it becomes accepted fact.

    It's so obvious, but it's amazing to see it function.

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