Top Fundraisers Questioned on Ethics
Bob Barr, Chris Simcox Have Questions to Answer About Use of Donations
By Christopher J. Petherick
Federal authorities have long targeted charities and fundraising organizations, which con donors out of vast sums of money, but do little to help the causes they claim to support.
But in the past couple of years, the fundraising of some once-respected figures and organizations have come under serious scrutiny. As a result, it can be hard to know who to trust.
Take Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr, for example. Barr, a former U.S. congressman from Georgia, built a massive war chest for his conservative political organization, The Bob Barr Leadership Fund. His fundraising for that fund has raised some eyebrows.
Barr’s fund was created to aid political candidates and organizations fighting for “conservative” causes.
But reports released in early summer reveal that his political action committee (PAC) spent a paltry 3 percent of the donations it received helping like-minded candidates and groups.
According to public records, since 2003, Barr’s PAC has raised $4.3 million. In that same time, he spent nearly $1 million on administrative costs—salaries, office expenses and travel. Only $125,000, or 3 percent, went to support politicians and committees that were up against “liberal” political candidates.
The vast majority of Barr’s money went to raising more money. Some 78 percent went to pay for more fundraising, namely buying mailing lists, paying for postage and hiring telemarketers.
Barr neglected to mention this to potential donors. As recently as April 2008, Barr’s group was sending out mailings that claimed his fund had played a “tremendous role” in ousting Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) in 2004 and provided “critical funding” in 2006 for freshman Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Minn.). But, despite having raised millions of dollars, Barr’s group only made minimal donations in those races: $1,000 to John Thune, who was Daschle’s opponent at
the time, and $1,500 to Bachman. That’s just one example of questionable ethics in the world of fundraising.
Many conservative donors are still reeling from reports in 2006 that Chris Simcox’s border watchdog group, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corp (MCDC), somehow managed to lose an estimated $1 million in donations that were sent in by supporters.
The problems seemed to start for Simcox when nearly $2 million was “funneled” through a charity owned by the notorious neo-conservative Alan Keyes. While MCDC volunteers were sleeping in tents, using outdated equipment and eating old MREs (meals ready to eat), Simcox’s organization could not account for nearly $1 million in donations it had received from donors who believed they were helping those out in the field trying to secure the country’s borders.
Simcox had also promised supporters that MCDC donations would be used to pay for 2,000 miles of state-of-the-art fencing at a cost of $55 million. Last year, reports revealed that the “wall,” which was supposed to be 14-feet high, was nothing more than some barbed wire fencing that ranchers in the area said was hardly more than a glorified cattle fence.
Sadly, questions remain to this day just how much money was collected by MCDC and how much disappeared into the coffers of Keyes and his neo-con “charity.”
AFP’s editor emeritus, Vince Ryan, said Americans should be wary of what organizations they support financially.
“It’s really shocking,” said Ryan. “You think you’re supporting organizations that will actually dedicate funds to publicize and fight for your causes, but they’re only enriching themselves. That’s why it’s so important to have groups like American Free Press and the FOUNDATION TO DEFEND THE FIRST AMENDMENT (a nonprofit 501c3). At least you know that your financial help is being spent judiciously in the fight for truly good causes.”
Christopher J. Petherick is a freelance journalist and publisher based in Maryland. For more information on his company, see his website at www.brandywinehouse.us or write directly to BRANDYWINEHOUSE BOOKS AND MEDIA, P.O. Box 638, Cheltenham, MD 20623. Petherick is presently working on several new books.
(Issue # 32, August 11, 2008)