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In defense of the Freedom Alliance and Sean Hannity

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By Michelle Malkin  •  March 19, 2010 11:20 PM

I had the honor of speaking at one of Oliver North’s Freedom Alliance events in 2002 about immigration and national security. While there, I met Shannon Spann, the widow of American hero Johnny “Mike” Spann — the 32-year-old CIA officer and former Marine Corps artillery specialist who was the first American killed in action during our war on terrorism in Afghanistan. Spann was killed in a prison riot where Jihad Johnny Lindh, the American Taliban, was captured. Spann had interrogated Lindh prior to the revolt; Lindh chose to hide the riot plans from his fellow American. Spann died in the violence. His family recounted his bravery after a visit overseas to the fortress where he died:

Mike Spann’s family visited the fortress after his murder. They talked to Afghan doctors who will never forget his bravery. “They said they thought Mike might run and retreat, but he held his position and fought using his AK rifle until out of ammo, and then draw and begin firing his pistol,” Spann’s father said. “While watching Mike fight they were able to jump up and run to safety.

“They said the only reason that they, and several others, were able to live was because Mike stood his position and fought off the prisoners while enabling them the time to run to safety. The doctors stated that as they fled toward a safe haven they saw Mike run out of ammo and then witnessed him fighting hand to hand until he was overcome by the numerous Al Qada and Taliban prisoners.”

The Freedom Alliance honored Spann with a posthumous award and his wife Shannon received it on his behalf. I’ll never forget her patriotism and grace and courage. Neither has the Freedom Alliance:

2002 Posthumously to: Johnny “Mike” Spann, Captain, United States Marine Corps and Central Intelligence Agency Officer. Presented to his wife, Shannon Spann.

After leaving the Marine Corps in 1999, Mike joined the CIA and went served in the agency’s paramilitary wing, the Special Activities Division , which is equipped to arm and train local forces and to conduct covert assaults. After 9/11,Mike volunteered to go to Afghanistan and search for Osama bin Laden.

In November, 2001, Mike Spann was killed by the Taliban during a prison uprising in Afghanistan, becoming the first American casualty of the War on Terror. One of the prisoners involved in the rebellion was John Walker Lindh, the traitorous American who converted to Islam and took up the Taliban cause.

Mike Spann was 32 years old at the time and left behind, his widow, Shannon Span, and three young children, one infant son and two young daughters. Today, this American hero rests in Arlington National Cemetery.

Over the years, the group has honored scores of such heroes, including 2008 award recipient Lt. Andrew Kinard:

Freedom Alliance Announces 1stLt Andrew Kinard, USMC as Defender of Freedom Award Recipient
By Jared Pierce
Monday, 08 December 2008

“Four days after being blasted to pieces by an IED in Iraq, Andrew Kinard was in the intensive care unit at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, with his family around his bedside, and still praying. By the time I returned from Iraq, just before Christmas 2006, Drew, as his Marine and Naval Academy friends call him, had already endured more than two dozen surgeries, and was fighting for his life.”

So explained Oliver North as he presented the 2008 Defender of Freedom Award to First Lieutenant Andrew Kinard, a Marine and an American hero, at the annual Freedom Alliance Defender of Freedom Dinner. Radio host and author, Laura Ingraham, joined in the salute to Andrew with her keynote address.

The Edward J. Bronars Defender of Freedom Award is presented each year to an outstanding individual who, in the face of adversity, exemplifies faith, courage and fidelity to the Constitution and the principles of freedom.

Along with First Lieutenant Kinard, the award was presented to the U.S. Marines deployed with First Platoon, Alpha Company, Second Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion to Operation Iraqi Freedom in August 2006. During their deployment, they showed extraordinary heroism, immeasurable courage, and dedicated service.

Andrew Kinard is a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina, and a 2005 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. In August, 2006, he deployed to Iraq with his unit. During his deployment, First Lieutenant Kinard was severely injured resulting in the loss of both legs. He would eventually undergo nearly 60 surgical procedures. Remarkably, Andrew continues to serve his country as an active duty Marine.

My Fox News colleague and friend Sean Hannity has devoted countless hours helping the Freedom Alliance — which has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator — raise money for the dependent children of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have been killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. The charity funds scholarships to students who have lost a parent on the battlefield in Persian Gulf War, the 1983 terrorist bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, and terrorist attacks on the USS Cole and the Pentagon. Sean has hosted Freedom Concerts across the country and helped raise millions for troops and their families:

Since 2003, over $10 million has been raised for the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund through the Freedom Concerts and generous donations from the Sean Hannity Show and its listeners. The Scholarship Fund is designated for the education of children of U.S. service members who have been killed or 100% permanently disabled in an operational mission or training accident. All net proceeds from ticket sales (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.

Unhinged smear-mongering spread on the Internet today — and it has been swiftly and definitively debunked and deconstructed.

From the Freedom Alliance:

March 18, 2010

Dear Friends of Freedom Alliance:

This week, false and malicious allegations about Freedom Alliance were posted on the Internet and we want to address them with you. We don’t know the motivation for these vicious smears, but we will not allow them to go unanswered.
First, we want to thank you for your support and assure you that Freedom Alliance’s record of financial stewardship and programmatic achievements not only meets, but exceeds standards of program efficiency set by most charity evaluators. We are extraordinarily proud of our work at Freedom Alliance and stand by our efforts 100 percent.

False Accusations

1. The blog posting accuses our friend Sean Hannity of personally benefiting from Freedom Alliance. This is FALSE. Freedom Alliance has never provided planes, hotels, cars, limos, or anything else to Sean. Sean gets nothing from Freedom Alliance except our gratitude for his personal generosity and for all he has done to help the troops and our organization. We have never had to ask Sean for anything, he always generously offers his help before we have a chance to ask him. But to be clear Sean pays for all his own transportation, hotels, and all related expenses for himself and his family and friends and staff, which over the years has added up to tens of thousands of dollars. He does not use any Freedom Alliance Funds or Concert funds in any way, period.

2. Sean Hannity has contributed $100,000 to the Wounded Warriors Foundation, over $200,000 to the Freedom Alliance, and over tens of thousands of dollars to other military charities and individuals. We only make this information public because of the outrageous slander against him. Sean has no management or operational involvement in, or control over, Freedom Alliance. He has been a selfless patriot in his efforts to raise funds for the education of children of armed services personnel.

3. The blog posting accuses Freedom Alliance of spending less than 20% of money raised on program activities. This is FALSE. Listed below are the amounts that Freedom Alliance spent for each of the past three years and the categories on which they were spent. The figures are taken from our Federal Form 990 which is filed with the Internal Revenue Service and posted on our web site and audited by an independent auditor using Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. This financial record not only meets, but exceeds standards of program efficiency set by most charity evaluators.

4. In 2008, Freedom Alliance spent a total of $6,745,717. Of that:

•79 percent ($5,317,970) was spent on Program Activities 14 percent ($945,950) was spent on Fundraising 7 percent ($481,797) was spent on ManagementIn 2007, Freedom Alliance spent a total of $7,461,350. Of that:
• 81.5 percent ($6,084,474) was spent on Program Activities • 13.5 percent ($1,011,501) was spent on Fundraising • 5 percent ($365,375) was spent on Management

In 2006, Freedom Alliance spent a total of $7,064,839. Of that:

• 77 percent ($5,434,538) was spent on Program Activities • 18.5 percent ($1,308,414) was spent on Fundraising • 4.5 percent ($321,887) was spent on Management

5. The blog posting accuses Freedom Alliance of spending money intended for student scholarships on other expenses. This is FALSE. Freedom Alliance has distributed $3.4 million in Scholarships and created a Scholarship Trust Fund with the additional money that we have raised for that program. That fund now contains $15 million, over $10 million of which has been raised by Hannity and the concerts. Our scholarship program is managed with the understanding that it will be needed for at least the next 20 years as there are children who will ultimately receive a scholarship who are now only a few years old. As indicated on our Federal Form 990, these funds are restricted and used only for future scholarships.

6. Our Scholarship Fund is one of four programs operated by Freedom Alliance. Supporters may donate to a specific program or for general operating purposes. In 2008, Freedom Alliance received $2.1 million in scholarship donations. The same year, we awarded $802,250 in scholarships and applied $1.3 million to our Scholarship Trust Fund. The funds donated by Sean Hannity directly — or through the proceeds of the Freedom Concerts — and the support of thousands of Americans are used for these purposes:

• Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund: Providing scholarships to those whose parents have been killed or severely injured in their service to our Country. There is now over $15 million in the scholarship fund for the students as they come of age.
• Support our Troops: Many events each year are planned and executed by our staff to show appreciate and provide special opportunities for those actively serving in the military.
• Leadership Academy: A program for high school students in which they are encouraged and trained to serve their country.

These programs would not be possible without the support of Mr. Hannity and many others.

We are proud of our work and numerous accomplishments. We are grateful to our supporters whose voluntary contributions make it possible and we thank you. While it is discouraging to have our record misrepresented in such a malicious way, our work is important and, with your support, it will continue.

Respectfully,
Thomas P. Kilgannon Oliver L. North President Founder & Honorary Chairman

From a thorough investigation by Tim Mak and Noah Kristula-Green:

1. Sean Hannity improperly benefited from Freedom Alliance by charging private jets, hotel stays and luxury cars.

Freedom Alliance’s press release today stated categorically that they have “never provided planes, hotels, cars, limos, or anything else to Sean [Hannity] … to be clear Sean pays for all his own transportation, hotels, and all related expenses for himself and his family and friends and staff.” We are satisfied that this is true.

It is true that Freedom Alliance spent $60,000 on aviation services in 2006, but there is no evidence that this was for Sean Hannity’s benefit, and it seems unlikely that the money was used to lease a Gulfstream 5. Rates for G5 aircraft average around $8,000 an hour. $60,000 would not buy much at that rate.

We have also been able to confirm that Sean Hannity has no operational control over the organization. Nor is he even a member of the group’s board.

If Schlussel stands behind her statement, then she will have to do better than a quote from a blind source, who is, as she admits, a friend of a friend.

2. Too Little of Freedom Alliance’s Spending Has Gone to Program Outcomes.

FrumForum has intensively investigated Freedom Alliance’s 990 Forms, which have been submitted to the IRS and checked by an independent auditor.

Debbie Schlussel alleges that only $1 million of the organization’s $8.8 million in revenue was going to soldiers and scholarships in 2008. This figure is the product of a misleading and selective reading of the organization’s tax forms.

The numbers that Schlussel cite refer to direct financial transfers to individuals – that is, if there is a direct grant that Freedom Alliance gives to a soldier. This does not include all the positive work that doesn’t involve a direct grant.

Freedom Alliance also spends money on non-cash benefits for military families, involving things like taking soldiers to sporting events and sending care packages to troops.

The highest paid employee earned $152,000 in 2006. The second highest paid employee earned $83,000. In 2007, Freedom Alliance spent about $1 in $7 on salary and benefits.

Total staffing costs may seem high, but they are not out of line with what is spent at many other charities. For example, the Armed Services branch of the YMCA spent about $1 in $2 on salaries and benefits in 2008.

Read the whole thing. North, the Freedom Alliance and Hannity won’t get a retraction from the smear-monger, of course.

But they have my gratitude and the gratitude of countless families and troops out there who have been touched in small ways and large by their dedication and hard work.

***

More commentary:

Erick Erickson, RedState: The story that isn’t

Andy McCarthy: “One of the Best Guys I Ever Met.”

Kathyrn Lopez: “This is a real shame.”

Bucks Right:

The long and short of the debunking: Hannity pays for his own travel and for the travel of his staff and family and is uninvolved with the Alliance’s day to day operations. He has also donated $200,000 of his own cash money to the Freedom Alliance, $100,000 to the Wounded Warrior Foundation, and tens of thousands to other veterans charities. A lot of the money the Freedom Alliance has raised is still in a trust because the kids of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t old enough to go to college and don’t need scholarships yet.

Whether or not there are problems with the charity – and at this point it’s pretty clear there are not – Hannity has nothing to do with how the charity is run or what they do with their money. His role seems to be promotion and bringing star power to the concert series, as well as donating an ass load of his personal money, all of which he does in spades.

True to form, Schlussel blames the entire backlash on right-wing anti-Semitism in an update to her original post, which she stands behind. She has also posted a comment on Tabin’s AmSpec apology defending her indefensible smear and at the FrumForum debunking of her smear.

Schlussel has been kind of a joke for years.

Indeed, I’ve known her a long time, linked her work and praised her reporting over the years, and once made the mistake of sympathizing with one of her old gripes about Sean. She has accused me (and everyone else on the planet) of stealing her work, hating Jews, and being less intelligent, less brave, and less successful than she is. Some very vindictive people will never be happy and have made it their life’s mission to drag the world down with them. It is very, very sad.

And one more thing: Does David Frum realize what an ass he made of himself?

***

Update:

Frum pats himself on the back here. Don’t break your arm there, pal. Frum also is irked that the name of his site, FrumForum, wasn’t mentioned — even though I linked to his site and cited by name the authors of the post on his site.

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