By Dave Johnson and James Boyce
In the early 1970s, the Nixon Administration took a page out of the tobacco industry’s playbook and actively organized front groups to counter the anti-war efforts of Vietnam veterans like John Kerry and Bobby Muller. Men like John O’Neill – later to re-appear as one of the Swift Boat Veterans – were hired to create what Watergate felon Charles Colson called “counter-foils.”
Today with the launch of “Freedoms Watch” our politics are further poisoned by the appearance of another mutant variation of this front-group tactic. Freedoms Watch is a shadowy 501c4 organization created to try to keep Republicans from abandoning the White House on Iraq. Ironically, on the very day the President invoked the legacy of Vietnam, his administration has created this Nixonian front-group counter-foil.
First of all, what is a Front Group? Front Groups have been used by the tobacco industry and the oil and energy companies to create the illusion of independence. “Freedoms Watch” can’t just come out and call themselves “former White House aides and Republican fundraisers” so they create a supposedly independent group and fund it heavily. Everyone pretends it is an independent organization that sprang up from grassroots supporters of the war.
So who is behind this front group? While there is some public disclosure of who is involved, there is none on their own web site.
On www.freedomwatch.org, there is no listing of people involved, no names and no contact address. Not ONE SINGLE PERSON is listed as being affiliated with the group. According to the press, “President Bush’s first White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, is the group’s spokesman.”
What is interesting to note about this site is how similar it is to one of the largest front groups created last cycle, Economic Freedom Fund. This group which was funded by five million dollars from Karl Rove confidante, Bob Perry, attacked Democrats throughout the cycle.
Like Freedoms Watch, their site has no name of an actual person associated with them.
Of course, this is not surprising. We also tracked back where their website is located (they made a little mistake which we caught.)
The company, Democracy Data and Communications is a leader in the “astroturf” industry. Their clients include primarily Republican-associated big businesses associations. They actually built a site called www.voteforgeorgebush.com last cycle.
Give them a cause, and a percentage of the $15 million, they’ll build you a site and ads.
When “Freedoms Watch” releases their records, we will have a clearer vision into who is giving them money – $15,000,000 is a lot of money to raise – and how they are spending their money.
For now, we know they have a lot of money, and they intend to spend it.
And, there is one more funny thing that our good friend Taylor Marsh pointed out. (She also has the first tv spots in her post.) If you call the 1-800 Number that “Freedom’s Watch” offers you for contacting your representative, they only actually connect you, if you agree with their policies.