Vets for Freedom Action Fund

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This article is part of the SourceWatch coverage of Vets for Freedom (VFF) and
Vets for Freedom Action Fund (VFF-AF).
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As recently as mid-May 2007[1], Vets for Freedom (VFF) was calling itself the Vets for Freedom Action Fund (VFF-AF)[2], a 527 committee national lobby Republican front group managed by Republican-affiliated public relations, media, legal, and political consultants, including former White House spokesman Taylor Gross, to defeat candidates who advocate an end to the US occupation of Iraq. (In August 2007 the Vets for Freedom Action Fund filed its final return with the IRS, though Vets for Freedom continues).

In 2006, Gross's PR firm the Herald Group helped VFF co-founder Wade Zirkle and "fellow Iraq veteran David Bellavia approach mainstream newspapers to offer dispatches from the two as war correspondents embedded with the military.[3] The two eventually got press credentials[4] through the neoconservative The Weekly Standard, whose editor, William Kristol,[5] has become an informal adviser to the group and helped put it in touch with" Republican strategist Dan Senor, who was "on retainer to help with fundraising."[6][7]

The Campaign Solutions website states[8] that, besides John McCain 2008, Bush Cheney '04, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and "a host of Senate, House and gubernatorial campaigns", it "also represents dozens of non-profit clients," including Vets for Freedom.

On October 10, 2006, Wade Zirkle, then VFF-AF's executive director, appeared on the CBS Evening News. His freeSpeech commentary "About Staying the Course in Iraq" was posted October 10, 2006, on CBS's website.[9] CBS described VFF-AF as "a bipartisan political action group supporting pro-military, pro-mission policymakers in the war on terror" and reported that Zirkle "appears regularly on CNN and Fox news to offer commentary on the war on terror."

"There is a problem with this," Dave Johnson wrote[10] October 10, 2006, for The Patriot Project. "Vets for Freedom Action Fund is a '527' group—a campaign organization that appears to exist soley to support one candidate—Joe Lieberman’s Connecticut campaign for the Senate. So Zirkle’s presentation was not 'commentary,' by definition it was a campaign speech supporting a partisan cause, delivered to a national audience a few weeks before an election."

Johnson points out additional issues regarding Zirkle's appearance on CBS News:

  1. "Because Vets for Freedom is a political, Party-affiliated election-campaign '527' organization supporting Joe Lieberman’s Senate Connecticut bid, CBS’ contribution of several minutes of airtime may be an improper corporate campaign contribution."
  2. The "appearance of Vets for Freedom Action Fund on a national nightly-news program bestows unwarranted credibility on Vets for Freedom. In the minds of voters, this elevated their party- and candidate-supporting advertisements to a different level."
  3. "However, beyond the impropriety of CBS making this contribution, there may also be a question whether this contribution violated Federal election law."

See the Opposing John Murtha and Supporting Joe Lieberman article for details.

"Non-partisan"

527 committee

The Vets for Freedom Action Fund stated that it was a "nonpartisan, tax-exempt organization that is established under section 527 of the federal tax code," which identifies it as a political action committee. The organization has shifted its focus from supporting the troops—as Vets for Freedom—to clearly political goals, as VFF-AF. See more below.

"So-called '527' groups[11] are named after section 527 of the tax code, and are created primarily to influence the nomination, election, appointment or defeat of candidates for public office."[12]

The IRS Form 8871 for Vets for Freedom Action Fund[13] shows the "Date established" as July 25, 2006, "To communicate with the public on veterans' issues and the war in Iraq." The organization's address is stated as 12097 South Middle Road, Edinburg, VA 22824. The 12097 South Middle Road, Edinburgh, VA, address for Vets for Freedom Acton Fund belongs to William Denman Zirkle, who is president of Shenandoah Valley Holdings LLC, according to 2004 FEC itemized receipts for "Bill Jones for US Senate".[14]

Wade Zirkle was named as custodian of records and contact person at the Edinburgh, VA, address and David Bellavia, Kevin Knox Nunnally, and Wade Zirkle are listed as directors.

The Vets for Freedom Action Fund purpose, however, was more clearly stated on its fundraising solitication page:[15]

"The Vets for Freedom Action Fund needs your help to support those in Washington, D.C. who have stood behind our troops in our battle against global extremism. Many of these principled Americans face tough battles this fall and they deserve our support for being steadfast and faithful to our troops at War.
"Please donate today to make your voice heard and to fight against the radical fringe who wants to steer our country towards defeat in the name of gutter ball partisan politics." (emphasis added)
"Support the troops by supporting their mission....Make your voice heard today!"

The Vets for Freedom Action Fund fundraising solicitation page included two disclaimers:

  1. "Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee."
  2. "Contributions to Vets for Freedom Action Fund are not tax deductible for federal income tax purposes."

The Vets for Freedom Action Fund fundraising solicitation page connected with the Donatelli Group's DonationReport.com.[16]

High-level Republican legal representation

VFF-AF's Republican Party connection included legal representation by HoltzmanVogel PLLC of Warrenton, Virginia, according to forms and schedules filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Firm co-founder Alex N. Vogel served as Chief Counsel to Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, and continues to serve as counsel to Frist's political action committee, Volunteer PAC. Prior, Vogel served as General Counsel for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). Previously, Vogel served as Deputy Counsel of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and, during November and December 2000, served as "counsel in the Presidential Recount, acting on behalf of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Florida and in Oregon." Vogel also served as General Counsel to Vice President Dan Quayle during the Quayle 2000 presidential campaign. [1] Vogel also "co-founded a lobbying firm with Bruce Mehlman the brother of Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman. Vogel and Mehlman's lobbying firm has close ties with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce." [2]

Partner Jill Holtzman Vogel is a 2007 Republican candidate for the 27th District in the Virginia State Senate. [3] Holtzman Vogel was named Chief Counsel of the Republican National Committee in 2004. Prior, she served as Deputy Counsel at the U.S. Department of Energy, "overseeing the transition and working with" the White House, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, and "other Federal Agencies to implement Energy initiatives." During November and December 2000, Vogel "served as counsel in the Florida Presidential Recount, acting on behalf of the Bush-Cheney campaign in West Palm Beach and in Osceola County. She also served as staff counsel for the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, California." [4]

Senior Associate Jason Torchinsky joined the firm in March 2006, coming immediately from the U.S. Department of Justice, according to his VogelHoltzman bio. Michael Turk reported in July 2006, that he, Jason Torchinsky, Frank J. Donatelli, Becki Donatelli, and Chuck DeFeo had "been working to put together" Rightroots (supported by ABC PAC Inc.), "the GOP equivalent of Act Blue - the Democrat’s online fundraising PAC." Previously, Torchinsky served as Deputy General Counsel to Bush-Cheney '04 and Deputy General Counsel to the 2005 Presidential Inaugural Committee. Tochinsky also worked at the White House in the Counsel's Office for now-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. [5] Torchinsky is affiliated with the American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund [6] and, as recently as October 4, 2006, was identified as the Fund's Counsel [7]. Like Vogel, Torchinsky also worked with Senator Bill Frist, running his Frist 2000, Inc. [8], which the FEC determined violated federal campaign finance laws.

High-level Republican media reps

SSG Media Inc. is affiliated with the Stevens & Schriefer Group, which is, in turn, affiliated with 360 Advantage headed by Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens.[17]

According to a November 9, 2006, news release by The Stevens & Schriefer Group, which describes itself as a "Republican media firm", the "Vets for Freedom Action Fund, giving a political voice to America's veterans and active duty troops, brought SSG in to support Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman’s Senate campaign."[18]

Schriefer did advertising with the Bush/Cheney 2000 and 2004 campaigns and produced the 2004 Republican National Convention. Stevens is a "Bush adman and veteran political strategist."[19]

High-level Republican media production

Red October Productions is owned by Ashley O'Connor, who served as Director of Production for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign and was "a key member of the strategy team." O'Connor "also produced a series of videos for the Republican National Convention in New York City, including the keynote video introducing the President of the United States to the convention hall." [9]

High-level Republican media outlets—Embedded: connecting the dots

Taylor Gross, a former White House spokesman for President George W. Bush who worked "under Press Secretary Scott McClellan until last year," "recently offered to several newspapers supposedly objective freelance stories from Iraq by two combat veterans who lead a pro-war group with deep Republican ties," Jerry Zremski reported in the June 25, 2006, Buffalo News.

Gross "approached at least four major newspapers, including The Buffalo News [on April 28, 2006,] with the offer," Zremski wrote. "Gross' pitch to The News said the two highly decorated veterans"—Wade Zirkle and David Bellavia—"could serve as embedded correspondents and 'offer balanced and credible viewpoints gained directly from those closest to and most affected by the Iraq War.'"

"No mainstream paper accepted Gross' offer," Zremski wrote. "Several major papers did, however, publish opinion pieces by Vets for Freedom leaders this spring. And last week, Bellavia and Zirkle returned to Iraq and embedded with military units. Their blog, at www.vetsforfreedom.org, paints a largely positive picture of the war effort."

"Zirkle said the Herald Group, Gross' public relations firm, volunteered to work for Vets for Freedom," Zremski wrote. Gross "and two other Republican operatives, Matt Well and Doug McGinn, formed the Herald Group last September and tout their GOP background on their Web site."

"In a telephone interview," Zremski wrote, "Gross said he never discussed the embedding effort with McClellan, who recently left the White House, or with Bush political guru Karl Rove. Gross said he also pitched the embedding proposal to the New York Daily News, the New York Post and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, but none of his offers went anywhere. ... Journalism ethics experts said that is no surprise."

Additionally, according to a July 2006 interview with Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief, Rod Nordland, published in Foreign Policy magazine, Nordland said

"But the military has started censoring many [embedded reporting] arrangements. Before a journalist is allowed to go on an embed now, [the military] check[s] the work you have done previously. They want to know your slant on a story—they use the word slant—what you intend to write, and what you have written from embed trips before. If they don’t like what you have done before, they refuse to take you."

Based on Nordland's comment, Vets for Freedom's Zirkle and Bellavia managed to present an acceptable "slant", as in June 2006 they spent two weeks reporting as embeds from Iraq and returned to the United States by the first week of July. [10]

It is also worth noting that, in December 2005, just prior to the emergence of Vets for Freedom, David Horowitz's right-wing FrontPageMag.com published VFF member-to-be David Bellavia's article "The Party of Defeat", which attacked the Democratic Party leadership in general—and John Kerry, John Murtha, Howard Dean, and Edward M. Kennedy in particular—and which echoed Bush administration pro-war rhetoric:

"Though soldiers bleed for the right to dissent, we must remember that at times dissent will embolden our desperate Islamofascist enemy, especially when they read accounts of the growing fecklessness of the American people and her policy makers."

High-level Republican fundraising: Donatelli Group

See Vets for Freedom/Donatelli Group & the Swift Boat Connection.

High-level Republican / neo-conservative funders: Manhattan Institute

Several of those who were major contributors to VFF-AF in the 2005-2006 election cycle were members of the Board of Trustees at New York's conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, as documented below.[20]

As it has already been established, another Manhattan Institute trustee, William Kristol, is connected with VFF and may well have been the impetus for the contributions.

VFF-AF funding

2005-2006 election cycle

Contributions

The Campaign Finance Institute reported[21] that in the 2005-2006 election cycle, through 20 days prior to the election, VFF-AF (Committee ID: C30000566; EIN: 20-5258611)—classifed as having "No Democratic or Republican Orientation"—had received $174,000 and expended $154,416. CFI also reported[22] that between January 1, 2005, and September 30, 2006, VFF-AF received $173,800 and expended $120,458.

According to the September 25, 2006, 28-page packet of forms and schedules[23] filed with the Federal Election Commission by HoltzmanVogel PLLC of Warrenton, Virginia, on behalf of VFF-AF, VFF-AF reported total donations of $31,650.00 and total expenditures at $27,517.50.

  • The majority of donations, beginning with the first stated as received on August 31, 2006, from David Edwards of Santa Ana, CA, reported by VFF-AF range between $10.00 and $150.00.
  • There were two $1,000.00 donations: The first by W. Denman Zirkle and the other by M. Elizabeth Weiss of Hinsdale, Illinois, who made a $4,000.00 contribution to Bush-Cheney '04 Inc. (Primary)[24] and a $2,000.00 contribution to George W. Bush in 2004.[25]
  • Four donations in excess of $1,000.00 included:
  • August 31, 2006, Samuel J. Heyman (stated as Samuel Heyman) of New York contributed $10,000.00.
  • September 6, 2006, Robert J. Appel (stated as Robert Appel) of New York contributed $5,000.00.
  • September 18, 2006, Philip M. Darivoff (stated as Phillip Darivoff) of Short Hills, New Jersey, contributed $5,000.00.
  • September 11, 2006, Martin J. Gross (stated as Martin Gross) of Roseland, New Jersey, contributed $2,000.00.

The Third Quarter Report for July 25 - September 30, 2006, filed October 16, 2006,[26] provides the following additional information on major contributions ($140,900.00 total):

  • August 28, 2006: Bob Pence, president of Pence Friedel Developers Inc. in McLean, Virginia, contributed $50,000.00.
  • August 24, 2006: Michael J. Fedak (reported as Fedek), a self-employed physician, Park Avenue, New York City, contributed $25,000.00.
  • August 25, 2006: Paul E. Singer, a hedge fund manager with Elliott Associates, New York City, contributed $25,000.00.
  • August 28, 2006: Roger Hertog, an investment banker with AllianceBernstein, New York City, contributed $25,000.00.
  • August 3, 2006: William Zirkle, a self-employed independent contractor from Mt. Jackson, Virginia, contributed $15,900.00.

Additional $1,000.00 contributions ($7,000.00 total) were given by:

Expenditures

The Third Quarter Report for July 25 - September 30, 2006, filed October 16, 2006,[29] shows the following expenditures:

  • August 4, 2006: $15,899.00 to The Hartford Courant for "Newspaper advertisement."
  • August 31, 2006: $60,000,00 to SSG Media for "Airtime for TV advertisement."
  • September 8, 2006: $918.00 to Wade Zirkle, self-employed "Independent Contractor" in Edinburgh, Virginia, for "Travel Expenses."
  • September 11, 2006: $2,453.00 to Holzman Vogel PLLC for "Legal fees."
  • September 11, 2006: $531.00 to Wade Zirkle, self-employed "Independent Contractor" in Edinburgh, Virginia, for "Travel Expenses."
  • September 12, 2006: $1,100.00 to Red October Productions for "Newspaper Advertisement Design."
  • September 13, 2006: $10,000.00 to Senor Strategies (Dan Senor) for "Consulting payment."
  • September 21, 2006: $20,000.00 to SSG Media for "Airtime for TV advertisement."
  • September 21, 2006: $6,241.00 to The Macon Telegraph for "Newspaper advertisement."
  • September 26, 2006: $3,315.00 to The Weekly Standard for "Magazine advertisement."

Additional 2006 contributions and expenditures

The Pre-Election Report: October 1 - 18, 2006,[30] filed October 25, 2006, shows the following:

  • One itemized contribution of $200.
  • Itemized expenditures include:
  • Holzman Vogel PLLC - $5,000 for legal fees.
  • Red October Productions - $45, $7,518, and $14,000 for production costs.
  • Campaign Solutions - $6,000 for website maintenance.
  • Bookkeeping expense.

The Post-General Election Report: October 19 - November 27, 2006,[31] filed December 7, 2006, shows the following:

  • Two itemized contributions totaling $1,250.
  • Itemized expenditures include:
  • Holzman Vogel PLLC - $4,000 for legal fees.
  • Red October Productions - $1,200 for production expenses.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri) - $19,834 for newspaper ad.
  • Stevens & Schriefer Group - $265 for production expenses.
  • Fenn Communications Group - $1,500 for production expenses.
  • Bookkeeping expense.

Year-end Report: November 27 - December 31, 2006,[32] filed January 31, 2007, shows the following:

  • One itemized $500 contribution.
  • Itemized expenditures include:
  • Holzman Vogel PLLC - $1,282 for legal expenses.
  • Bookkeeping expense.

2007 contributions and expenditures

Final Report: July 1 - August 20, 2007,[33] filed August 20, 2007, shows the following:

  • Two itemized contributions ($500.00 and $300.00), both on July 10, 2007: $800.00.
  • One expenditure for $5,784.00 to Holzman-Vogel PLLC for legal expenses.

The Mid Year Report: January 1 - June 30, 2007,[34] filed July 31, 2007, shows the following:

  • Three itemized contributions totaling $1,250.00.
  • Itemized expenditures include:
  • Holzman-Vogel PLLC - $1,738.00 for legal expenses.
  • Campaign Solutions - $5,861.00 for internet billing.
  • Vets for Freedom - $4,227.00 for "Contribution to non-profit organization."

Resources and articles

References

  1. Archived copy of VFF home page showing reversal of Vets for Freedom Action Fund back to Vets for Freedom, May 18, 2007.
  2. Archived copy of most recent update to Vets for Freedom Action Fund home page, February 8, 2007.
  3. "Vets for Freedom: Connecting the Dots," SourceWatch.
  4. David Bellavia, Owen West and Wade Zirkle, "Birth of an Army. With the Iraqi forces in Ramadi," The Weekly Standard, July 24, 2006.
  5. Form 8872: Political Organization Report of Contributions and Expenditures: Vets for Freedom Action Fund, July 25-September 30, 2006; filed October 16, 2006, reports that on September 26, 2006, The Weekly Standard was paid $3,315.00 for a "Magazine advertisement."
  6. Judy Kosterlitz, "Lobbying & Law - Veterans of Political Wars," National Journal (Iraq Vets for Progress), undated 2006.
  7. Form 8872: Political Organization Report of Contributions and Expenditures: Vets for Freedom Action Fund, July 25-September 30, 2006; filed October 16, 2006, reports that $10,000.00 was paid to Senor Strategies for a "Consulting payment."
  8. About, CampaignSolutions.com.
  9. "freeSpeech: Wade Zirkle. Former Marine Speaks About Staying The Course In Iraq," CBS News, October 10, 2006.
  10. Dave Johnson, "CBS News Provides Free Airtime To Vets For Freedom Action Fund - A Campaign Organization," The Patriot Project (The Huffington Post), October 10, 2006.
  11. '527' groups, answers.com.
  12. Dave Johnson, "Behind the Front: The Creation of Vets for Freedom," The Patriot Project/Seeing the Forest, August 16, 2006.
  13. Form 8871 for Vets for Freedom Action Fund.
  14. Schedule A: Itemized Receipts for "Bill Jones for US Senate"/C00393785, Federal Election Commission.
  15. VFF Fundraising solicitation page, DonationReport.com
  16. DonationReport.com website.
  17. About, 360Advantage.com.
  18. News Release: "The Stevens & Schriefer Group Bucks National Trend," The Stevens & Schriefer Group, November 9, 2006.
  19. Jack O'Dwyer's Newletter, Vol. 38, No. 17, April 27, 2005.
  20. "Right Wing Organizations: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research," People for the American Way, accessed August 14, 2007.
  21. "Federal 527 Organizations Raising > $100,000 or Spending > $200,000 in 2005-06 Cycle Through 20 Days Prior to the General Election," Campaign Finance Institute.
  22. "Federal 527 Organizations Raising > $100,000 or Spending > $200,000 Jan. 1, 2005 - September 30, 2006," Campaign Finance Institute.
  23. Forms and schedules for Vets for Freedom Action Fund filed with Federal Election Commission.
  24. Schedule A: Itemized Receipts: Bush-Cheney '04 (Primary) Inc., C00386987, Federal Election Commission.
  25. FundRace: Neighbors: Weiss, The Huffington Post.
  26. Form 8872: Political Organization Report of Contributions and Expenditures: Vets for Freedom Action Fund, July 25-September 30, 2006; filed October 16, 2006.
  27. Profile: Frank M. Rapoport, partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP.
  28. Profile: Thomas P. Ogden, partner at Davis Polk and Wardwell.
  29. Form 8872: Political Organization Report of Contributions and Expenditures: Vets for Freedom Action Fund, July 25-September 30, 2006; filed October 16, 2006.
  30. Form 8872: Political Organization Report of Contributions and Expenditures: Vets for Freedom Action Fund, October 1-10, 2006; filed October 25, 2006.
  31. Form 8872: Political Organization Report of Contributions and Expenditures: Vets for Freedom Action Fund, October 19-November 27, 2006; filed December 7, 2006.
  32. Form 8872: Political Organization Report of Contributions and Expenditures: Vets for Freedom Action Fund, November 27-December 31, 2006; filed January 31, 2007.
  33. Form 8872: Political Organization Report of Contributions and Expenditures: Vets for Freedom Action Fund, July 1-August 20, 2007; filed August 20, 2007.
  34. Form 8872: Political Organization Report of Contributions and Expenditures: Vets for Freedom Action Fund, January 1-June 30, 2007; filed July 31, 2007.

External resources