This Saturday, the polarizing Fox News pundit Glenn Beck is hosting his Restoring Honor Rally in Washington, DC. Even though conservative celebrity and “potential 2012 presidential candidate” Sarah Palin will speak and Tea Party darling Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) will attend, Beck is pitching the rally as a “non-political, non-partisan event” to “honor the troops, unite the American people under the principles of integrity and truth, and make a pledge to restore honor within ourselves and our country.”
Beck’s newfound commitment to “absolutely no politics” is not just rhetoric, but a contractual matter for the non-profit foundation co-sponsoring the event, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF). Founded in 1980, SOWF is a successful charity that provides college scholarships for children of special operations personnel killed in action or in training. Any fundraiser, including the Restoring Honor Rally, cannot be political and SOWF has required that speakers at the rally, including Palin, sign an agreement to that effect. SOWF guidelines also insist that “money needed for expenses (space rental, deposits, etc) must be supplied by the party” sponsoring the event. While the costs of such the rally, slated to approximate $2 million, were initially daunting, Beck found an easy answer: pay for it with the donations.
According to Beck’s rally website, “all contributions made” to SOWF “will first be applied to the costs of the Restoring Honor Rally taking place on August 28, 2010. All contributions in excess of these costs will then be retained by the SOWF.” As Mother Jones first reported, this arrangement was enough to irk ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to pull his donation to Beck’s rally earlier this month:
Cathie Levine, vice president for media relations at ABC News explained, “We get hundreds of these solicitations from charities every year and try as much as possible to fulfill them as long as they are meet our standards including that the proceeds go to charity.” A few days later, she reported back that, “We sought assurance that the auction money would go directly to charity and while we were told the rally costs were covered and that funds raised from our specific item would go to Special Operations Warrior Foundation, it didn’t sufficiently meet our standards. So we withdrew our auction item and George will make a personal donation directly to the SOWF.”
As SOWF spokeswoman Edie Rosenthal told Time’s Kate Pickeret, they have “never had an event that cost this much.” While Beck’s promotion brought in more than enough to pay for the “non-political” rally, he raised the money by auctioning off distinctly political prizes last month, including an autographed copy of tea party leader Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) book “Saving Freedom,” a lunch with Karl Rove for $7,500, or a Capitol tour with Bachmann for up to $13,000. When asked whether SOWF is concerned that associating with such right-wing politicos like the “divisive Beck” will tarnish their non-political reputation, Rosenthal said Beck is doing “something for the fallen” despite “whatever else he does” and “as crazy as he gets.”
Beck’s efforts have certainly raised an unprecedented amount for SOWF. But the financing arrangement behind the event colors it less as a charitable endeavor and more as a “symbiotic relationship.” As Pickeret notes, while SOWF “gets the largest influx of donations in its history,” Beck “gets to headline a donor-funded $1 million rally in Washington, DC.”