Conservative blogger accuses Hannity of deceptive fundraising practices

I'm hesitant to take anything Debbie Schlussel says seriously, given her track record. That rather large disclaimer aside, Schlussel has posted what is, on its face, a potentially damaging investigation of Sean Hannity and the Freedom Alliance charity. Given the public statements by New York Times and Washington Post editors about the need to be more responsive to stories developed on conservative web sites, you have to wonder if they'll look into this:

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.

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 ferret 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.

Schlussel then summarized Freedom Alliance's revenues and expenses for several years. For example:

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.

Those numbers check out (pdf). But Freedom Alliance's mission is broader than scholarships and aid to injured soldiers (a fact Schlussel overlooks), so it's certainly possible that it is spending an appropriate proportion of its revenues to advance that mission. But Schlussel doesn't merely criticize the charity's disbursements; she also contends the Freedom Alliance's fundraising practices have been deceptive:

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. [Emphasis added]

Unfortunately, Schlussel doesn't provide any documentation for the assertion that Freedom Alliance claimed in writing that 100 percent of donated funds would go to scholarships, so we don't know if it's true.

Schlussel's characterizations and assertions need to be taken with more than a grain of salt -- they require an entire salt lick, at least. But her numbers seem to check out. If her assertions that Hannity has made false claims in raising money for the charity are also true, that would be scandalous.

Editors at The New York Times and the Washington Post have said in recent months that their papers need to do a better job of picking up on stories right-wing web sites are pushing. Schlussel's investigation into Hannity and Freedom Alliance would seem like a good place for the Post and Times to do some digging -- unless, of course, they only intend to follow up on conservative attacks on liberals.