If it’s a day ending in “y,” that means it’s time for the Huffington Post and Media Matters to scream about Sean Hannity. But this time around, the charges are far worse than calling a governor a “governor,” and the accuser is no “psycho leftist liberal.”
Conservative, anti-jihad blogger and film critic Debbie Schlussel alleges that Hannity’s Freedom Concerts, which raise money for the education of fallen or severely-disabled soldiers through Lt. Col. Oliver North’s Freedom Alliance, are scams. Hannity allegedly uses the donations for luxury hotels, Gulfstream Jets, and SUV “fleets” for family and friends, with little left over for the charity’s stated cause:
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 [...]
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.
Schlussel goes on to dissect Freedom Alliance tax forms, and her findings don’t look good:
[In 2008], 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.
If this was true, it would be a disgrace that should end Hannity’s career and lead conservatives to demand answers from the Freedom Alliance. However, certain aspects of Schlussel’s report are questionable. First, the accusations about Hannity’s misuse of funds come from an unnamed “well-known conservative writer,” who supposedly heard them from an also-unnamed “friend at FOX News.” For another, she offers several horror stories of wounded veterans who receive frighteningly-meager sums for grievous injuries, such as a triple-amputee who received “roughly $67 per limb.” But none of these veterans are named, nor does Schlussel offer any sources beyond the implication that she personally investigated them. Third, Schlussel’s personal animosity toward Hannity goes back a few years, and may be playing a role here.
The American Spectator’s John Tabin has been following the story. Initially disgusted with Hannity, a “knowledgeable source” since told him that Sean pays for all of his travel and hotel accommodations out of his own pocket, not through FA funds, and that:
The reason so little has been paid out from the charity is that the vast majority of the kids the money WILL go to are right now not in college. When they turn 18 they will get the money for college. But because these are the children of Iraq and Afghanistan vets, their kids are mostly not of college age yet.
This afternoon, the Freedom Alliance released a statement responding to Schlussel’s claims. It reiterates the assurance that Hannity receives nothing from FA, points out that Hannity has personally “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,” and explains and defends the FA’s work:
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 […]
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 […]
Read the full statement for the numbers and the Alliance’s other programs. On their face, they seem to satisfactorily refute the allegations—of course funds raised for college educations aren’t going to be doled out until the kids are, y’know, in college, and much of the money not going to the scholarships is going to other charitable causes. As for Hannity’s conduct, it’s the Freedom Alliance’s word against Schlussel’s—and unless Schlussel offers further evidence, it makes more sense to believe the organization managing the funds over the blogger who ran with something she supposedly got from an anonymous friend, who heard it from another anonymous friend.
Whatever the truth is, we know which version the Left is going to run with, no matter what comes to light in the days to come. Thanks, Debbie!
As of this post’s publication, Debbie Schlussel has not responded to the Freedom Alliance, and Sean Hannity has not weighed in on the controversy. We’ll be sure to follow up if they do, but at the moment, it seems Hannity’s only real Freedom Concert-related crime is butchering “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”: