Debbie Schlussel

March 18, 2010, - 5:46 am

Sean Hannity’s Freedom CONcert Scam: Almost None of Charity’s $ Wen...

By Debbie Schlussel

****03/19/10: SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATE: My Response to Freedom Alliance’s/Oliver North’s Weak “Non-Response” & New Lies ****

For the last several years, Sean Hannity and the Freedom Alliance “charity” have conducted “Freedom Concerts” across America. They’ve told you that they are raising money to pay for the college tuition of the children of fallen soldiers and to pay severely wounded war vets. And on Friday Night, Hannity will be honored with an award for this “Outstanding Community Service by a Radio Talk Show Host” at Talkers Magazine’s convention.

But it’s all a huge scam.

freedomconcerthannity

In fact, less than 20%–and in two recent years, less than 7% and 4%, respectively–of the money raised by Freedom Alliance went to these causes, while millions of dollars went to expenses, including consultants and apparently to ferry the Hannity posse of family and friends in high style. And, despite Hannity’s statements to the contrary on his nationally syndicated radio show, few of the children of fallen soldiers got more than $1,000-$2,000, with apparently none getting more than $6,000, while Freedom Alliance appears to have spent tens of thousands of dollars for private planes. Moreover, despite written assurances to donors that all money raised would go directly to scholarships for kids of the fallen heroes and not to expenses, has begun charging expenses of nearly $500,000 to give out just over $800,000 in scholarships.

In February 2009, a well-known conservative writer sent me this, about a friend at FOX News:

The guy went on to tell me about Hannity’s “Freedom Concerts,” which are staged across the country with the proceeds going to children of slain soldiers. Of course, as the guy tells it, there’d be a lot more money every concert to go to the cause if Hannity didn’t demand–and get–use of a Gulfstream 5 plane to fly him and his family/entourage to the concerts; a “fleet” (that’s the word the guy used) of either Cadillac or Lincoln SUVs for him and his family/entourage; and several suites at really expensive hotels for him and his family/entourage. The promoter apparently values Hannity’s star demands at well over $200,000 per event. The source says he heard that Oliver North pulled Hannity aside at one of the concerts and told him that this had to stop. But that may mean that, from now on, Hannity has to fly on a G4 instead of a G5, gets only a few luxury SUVs, and two or three suites.

North is the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance.

I began investigating these claims, and lo and behold, I discovered that Freedom Alliance gives very little money to the children of slain troops to pay for college and even less to wounded troops. The stories of injuries to troops and how much Freedom Alliance gives them–$200 for a soldier from a poor neighborhood who lost three limbs–is heartbreaking. Soldiers with traumatic brain injuries, severe wounds to the face from disfiguring burns and explosions, and multiple amputations got $1,000 or less, with only a handful of exceptions.

The tax forms available to the public for the Freedom Alliance–for the years 2006-2008–paint a tragic story, a story of a charity that makes gazillions and spends very little for the purposes it claims, a charity that spends millions more on its small staff and crony consultants than it ever gives in scholarships to the children of the fallen or severely injured troops or in aid to the injured troops themselves. While Hannity’s Freedom Concerts take in millions, only a few hundred thousand go to the claimed intended recipients.

Over a year ago, when I began looking into this story, I contacted both Sean Hannity and the Freedom Alliance seeking comment and an accounting for where the money went. Both declined to answer any of my questions. Hannity refused to respond to an inquiry I sent to his personal private e-mail address asking him about the lavish expenses described in the e-mail above.

Freedom Alliance press secretary Alan Moore scheduled an interview for me with Freedom Alliance president Thomas Kilgannon, who in the past used Freedom Alliance resources to promote a book he wrote on the United Nations. But when Moore asked me what the interview would be about and I answered truthfully, the interview was not granted, and my calls to him were never returned thereafter. I told him I’d be asking Mr. Kilgannon about the expenses paid for Hannity and about the paltry percentage of Freedom Alliance funds actually going to the kids of fallen troops, to severely injured troops, and to anything other than expenses, consultants, and printing. I wanted to know why Freedom Alliance had spent $60,000 for “aviation services” in 2006.

Keep in mind that a charity is considered reputable if no more than 25% of its revenue goes to expenses and no less than 75% of it goes to the intended charity recipients. Given that, Freedom Alliance’s balance sheets are embarrassing in their shamelessness.

According to its 2006 tax returns, Freedom Alliance reported revenue of $10, 822, 785, but only $397,900–or a beyond-measly 3.68%–of that was given to the children of fallen troops as scholarships or as aid to severely injured soldiers.

On the other hand, 62% of the money went to “expenses,” including $979,485 for “consultants” and an “advisor.” Yes, consultant/advisors got more than double what injured troops and the kids of fallen troops got. The tax forms show that “New World Aviation” got paid $60,601 for “air travel.” Was that for Hannity’s G5? Like I said, neither the charity nor Hannity is talking. And finally, that year, Freedom Alliance spent $1,730,816 on postage and shipping and $1,414,215 on printing, for a total of $3,145,031, nearly half the revenue the charity spent that year and about eight times what the injured troops and the children of fallen ones received.

That’s especially heartbreaking when you compare the hundreds of thousands consultants got and the millions spent on printing and postage to the outrageously small amounts given to wounded soldiers. In 2006, Freedom Alliance gave only $1,000 to a soldier from Bay City, Michigan, whom the charity says was in the following condition:

Face was blown up and lost sight in one eye.

And that $1,000 was relatively generous, when you consider this soldier from Romulus, Michigan, whom Freedom Alliance only gave $200:

SM [serviceman] was involved in roadside bomb incident in Iraq, which caused loss of both legs and left arm.

Romulus is a mostly Black Detroit suburb, which is one of the poorest cities in Michigan and in America. Freedom Alliance gave this brave soldier roughly $67 per limb. That’s sickening.

So is the fact that this soldier, from Alexandria, Virginia, also only got $200 from Freedom Alliance:

SM was wounded in Iraq by an IED explosion. Lost right arm and severe shrapnel wounds to upper body and face.

Also appalling is the fact that in each year’s tax returns soldiers described as having brain trauma injuries, multiple amputated limbs, and severe burns over most of their bodies get a few hundred bucks each from Freedom Alliance and in almost every case, no more than $1,000.

That year, while fat-cat consultants and expenses took millions of Freedom Alliance’s money, seriously wounded troops to whom Freedom Alliance donated received a pathetic average of $785 each and the college student kids of the fallen got a paltry average of $2,943 toward tuition. Yes, out of millions raised that year by Sean Hannity at his Freedom Concerts, only $309,000 was given out in scholarships to 105 students, and only $110,703.82 was given to the wounded soldiers.

Freedom Alliance’s 2007 tax returns aren’t much better. Out of $12,459,317 it raised that year, only $895,347–or just 7%–went to seriously wounded troops and scholarships for fallen troops. 53% went to expenses, including $1,464,627 in postage and $1,151,428 in printing. $604,995 went to “professional fees” and “consultants.” Out of millions paid for Freedom Concert tickets and raised in fundraisers by Hannity listeners, only $596,500 went to college scholarships for soldiers who died in battle, and only $299,897 went to horribly injured troops. 208 student children of the fallen got an average of $2,868 apiece for tuition, though many got only $1,000 or less. 382 soldiers with serious injuries got an average of $785 each.

And, again, that year, the amounts given to soldiers with such grave injuries is despicably tiny. This soldier, from Killeen, Texas, got only $500 from Freedom Alliance:

SM was wounded in Iraq on June 18, 2007 in Digula Province, Baquba, Iraq. An IED exploded on the truck, he took shrapnel to the face, which cut off a piece of his nose. Also had shrapnel in throat and cheeks, which cut open his face and the inside of his throat.

This soldier, from Brady, Texas, also received just $500 from Freedom Alliance:

While serving in Baghdad Iraq, SM was hit with an IED blast. Sustained disfigurement, blindness, and superficial burns on face, hearing loss to right ear, TBI, peppered shrapnel to the face and right upper extremity.

And then, there are the 2008 Freedom Alliance tax forms, which were signed in November 2009 and filed only recently. That year, Freedom Alliance took in $8,781,431 in revenue and gave $1,060,275.57 total–or just 12%–to seriously wounded soldiers and for scholarships to kids of the fallen. Remember, this is well below the 75% required to be considered a legitimate charity. And after claiming in written letters to donors that 100% of the money donated, via the Freedom Concerts or otherwise, to the scholarships would go directly to the scholarships and not to expenses, the Freedom Alliance decided to do the contrary and charge expenses anyway–charging a whopping $436,386 to give out $802,250 in scholarships. That means that 35% of the $1,238,636–all of which was supposed to go to scholarships for these kids of the fallen–went to Freedom Alliance.

Freedom Alliance spent $5,375,654–or 61% of its total revenue earned in 2008–on expenses, but actually 80% of the total revenue spent and given out for that year. That includes $1,055,791 spent on postage and $925,392 on printing. It spent $157,041 on travel. Is this the item that includes the money for the alleged Sean Hannity Gulfstream flights? Like I said, neither the charity nor Hannity will answer questions.

Meanwhile, 167 students got an average of just $4,803.89 each in tuition. With the amount this charity raises, these kids should all be getting a free ride paid for by Freedom Alliance.

And 299 very seriously injured soldiers got an average of just $805.21 each for very grave injuries. And the heartbreak of their stories and the disgustingly low amount donated to them continues. This soldier, from Laurel, MD, got just $1,000:

SM lost both legs and one arm, below elbow, due to IED blast. SM also lost hearing in both ears on April 21, 2008.

Wow, while Sean Hannity and his friends at Freedom Alliance are paying their crony consultants hundreds of thousands of dollars, they’re giving this soldier $200 per limb lost or rendered useless.

This soldier, from Fort Sam Houston, Texas (where my own father was first sent when he was drafted during Vietnam), fared even worse in Freedom Alliance’s “generosity,” receiving only $165:

SM is a bilateral amputee with 30% facial burns sustained during IED blast, 31 May 2008, OEF.

Just $165 for that? Pathetic. And so very tragic.

Since Sean Hannity is always bragging about his phony “investigations” (stuff he just rips off from others) and “investigative” skills, you’d think he could figure out how to read a tax return and bother to look at Freedom Alliance’s. But you would be wrong. He has neither the skills nor the desire. He knows better and is well aware that they waste money on him and his luxe accommodations and travel. But this isn’t about that or truly about helping the troops and the kids of our war dead. It’s about promoting himself, the same way Angelina Jolie and Madonna get the press to film them in Africa.

To make matters worse, Hannity deliberately lied to his radio audience about how much money was going to the kids of the fallen American soldiers. On May 28th of last year, Hannity told his listeners, “Our new sponsor, Boca Java, just pledged $30,000 to the Freedom Concerts. That will provide a full one-year college scholarship for a kid of a fallen soldier.” In fact, Freedom Alliance’s tax forms indicate it has never given any student more than $6,000 in a school year, and usually it’s been far less. Many students only get $1,000, which will barely cover anything at most colleges, today. A Boca Java spokeswoman told me that last year was the coffee purveyor’s last one sponsoring the Freedom Concerts, as it now donates directly to the troops, sending them free coffee and through sales of its Brew of Bravery.

A friend of mine was one of the artists who performed in Hannity’s Freedom Concerts and was shocked when I showed him the tax forms and the expenses. He no longer performs at the concerts because he was tired of the egomania. Now, he’s just angry. “We paid our own way and for all of our costs and expenses to perform because we thought we were helping the troops and their families and that all the money was going to them.”

In investigating Freedom Alliance and its tax forms, I learned that the organizations which evaluate charities are entirely worthless. Freedom Alliance is certified as “Best in America” by the “Independent Charities of America.” It is also rated a “Four Star Charity” by “Charity Navigator.” Both of these “ratings” are posted prominently on Freedom Alliance’s website, misleading donors into believing they are donating to a worthy cause, when in fact they are mostly donating to a black hole of expenses. Even Charity Navigator notes in its strange, illogical, and mostly inaccurate Four Star rating that Freedom Alliance has a fund-raising “efficiency” of only nine cents on the dollar. And, in fact, Charity Navigator’s ridiculous rating formula robotically crunches numbers in a way that considers the money spent mostly on consultants, postage, and printing as having gone to the wounded soldiers and kids of fallen soldiers, when in fact that’s not where it went at all. It simply can’t be taken seriously.

And I’m not the only one who noticed. The comments on Charity Navigator’s Freedom Alliance page are indicative that those who checked this charity’s tax forms also note the scam.

“Wonkling” wrote:

If you look at the actual 990, it breaks down its program expenses. They actually spent more money this past year on postage than they did over the past 4 years on scholarships. They paid 60k to an air company, millions to consultants, marketing, fundraising. Their actual expenditures on funds for children of killed/disabled veterans is far less than what they paid themselves or their consultants. Having a large capacity (4 stars) should not overshadow a cumbersome efficiency rating (2 stars).

“Chickenbone” wrote:

Since 2003 Freedom Alliance has collected in cash $48,241,571! Since 2003 they have spent on the Wounded and Dead Veterans and their Families $1,781,782 or .036 cents on the dollar, according to their own IRS 990’s!

Yes, Sean Hannity’s Freedom Concerts are just a giant con. His gushing lumpenconservatariat fans and listeners actually believe he’s doing good, while he travels in style around the country feeding his ego. It’s a win-win for him. But it’s a lose-lose for the donors (who are mostly hard-working, Middle Americans who want to help our troops and their families and bought concert tickets and held other fundraisers) and mostly a loser for the kids of the fallen troops and the troops, themselves, who survived with very serious injuries.

You’ve heard the saying, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” I love patriotism, but in this case, Sean Hannity’s “Freedom Concerts” and the Freedom Alliance are Exhibit A of that saying. But they’re not really patriots. Not even close. Their only patriotism is to the faces they see in their mirrors. Hey, Sean, you’re a “Great American.”

Sadly, the real great Americans–the ones who gave their lives and the ones who survived but gave their limbs and their skin for this country–are getting ripped off.

**** UPDATE, 03/18/10: Just as I expected, the liars and frauds at Freedom Alliance want to keep the gravy train going for them and their cronies. So they’ve issued a “response,” which doesn’t refute a single fact in here and frankly provides no hard evidence of anything . . . because they don’t have any. One of the “prominent bloggers” who posted the phony response is Erick Erickson, a guy who supports Rand Paul and the other 9/11 Truther Paul, and who defended Emily Zanotti, the lunatic who has been stalking me for four years and who praised Muslim death, rape, and torture threats against me and my family. Yes, sadly, there are a growing number of anti-Semites on the right, and Erick Erickson is one of them. And the anti-Semites are now the defenders of this rip off of our seriously wounded troops and the kids of our fallen heroes.

Here is my response to their extremely weak PR attempt at CYA:

In fact, the Freedom Alliance “response” doesn’t answer any of the questions I raised and goes on to lie more. They don’t address why they gave a triple amputee only $200—and in fact there are many of these examples provided in their tax return addendum, but I only cited a few for brevity’s sake. They also lie and claim that they gave a lot more money to charity b/c they categorize it as “program expenses.” But I’m sorry—calling $3 million in consulting fees, printing, and postage “program expenses” doesn’t change the fact that it still went to their cronies, not to a fund and not the soldiers who only got on average less than $900 apiece. It also doesn’t change the fact that out of the money spent (I didn’t use the money they claim they raised for their scholarship fund) the vast majority goes to those kinds of expenses.

Also, the “scholarship fund” is really a war chest for something else. We’ve been at war since 2001, when we went into Afghanistan, and we’re winding down in Iraq. Unless the kids were born in 2001 or thereafter, many of these kids are in college now and Freedom Alliance is giving them a pittance toward their college tuition, while they continue to build this massive war chest. With a giant multi-million dollar fund, why aren’t they giving the kids a free, complete ride to college? And how many kids of deceased troops will there be in the future? Enough to exhaust a multi-million dollar fund? Doubtful.

Moreover, because they hoarded millions of dollars, their returns show the fund shrunk by several million dollars with bad investments and market losses. That money could have put these kids through college for the entire time. What’s their excuse for the soldiers with no limbs and with severe burns? Are they waiting for two decades from now when technology is better? $165 for a soldier who is blind and his face blew up? No excuse for that. Their “response” is simply a non-response and an attempt to cover up the fraud. I will be posting more on this and on more fraud at Freedom Alliance, in the coming days. Stay tuned.
DS

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Comment by Stephen Moore on March 23, 2010 at 3:06am
It would be a mistake to take this incident and apply it more broadly, but it does at least have me wondering how much of that charitable given by the wealthy, that charitable giving that is supposedly so much better than 'government handouts' (read effective social welfare programmes) is really just money circulating around and between the plutocrats.
Comment by richard lee on March 22, 2010 at 7:10pm
THERE'S that 'Mega-Patriotic-christian love' I keep hearing about!

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