Update: Freedom Alliance responds to allegations
Fox News commentator Sean Hannity is routinely mocked by the left for his conservative positions, but now he has become the target of far more serious accusations from a fellow-conservative.
Columnist and blogger Debbie Schlussel claimed on Friday that Hannity is profiting from a charity that raises money for severely injured US soldiers and the children of troops killed in action, and she described the Freedom Alliance as "a huge scam."
"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 [sic] the Hannity posse of family and friends in high style," Schlussel writes.
"And, despite Hannity’s statements to the contrary on his nationally syndicated radio show," she continues, "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."
Schlussel cites an anonymous source who she says told her that the promoter of Hannity's fundraising "Freedom Concerts" figured the cost of a Gulfstream jet, a "fleet" of luxury SUVs, and high-end hotel suites for Hannity's entourage as amounting to over $200,000 per event.
"To make matters worse," Schlussel continues, "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."
This is not the first time that Schlussel has gone up against Hannity. In 2007, she accused him of "ripping off" her work without credit on his Fox News program. In 2008, she renewed the plagiarism charge and also challenged Hannity to "come clean" on his "close relationship" with Neo-Nazi Hal Turner. These latest charges, however, are far more serious.
Conservative blogs have already taken note of Schlussel's accusations. John Tabin at The American Spectator writes, "This is disgusting. Apparently Sean Hannity's Freedom Concerts ... are scandalously inefficient."
A lengthy comment thread at conservative website Free Republic has garnered a spectrum of comments, ranging from "This is a LIE!!!" and "I don't think she is quite right in the head" to "I have always considered Hannity to be a whore" and "HUGE AND SERIOUS!!!"
Liberal websites have also been quick to jump on Schlussel's claims. Media Matters -- which Schlussel once described as "Nazi-infested" -- has double-checked Freedom Alliance's tax returns and confirms that Schlussel's "numbers seem to check out." The site cautions, however, that "Freedom Alliance's mission is broader than scholarships and aid to injured soldiers (a fact Schlussel overlooks)," and suggests that Schlussel's claims need to be more closely examined.
"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," Media Matters notes. "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."
In a statement issued late Friday afternoon, the president of Freedom Alliance responded to Schlussel's allegations.
"Freedom Alliance has never provided planes, hotels, cars, limos, or anything else to Sean," the statement reads. "Sean gets nothing from Freedom Alliance except our gratitude for his personal generosity and for all he has done to help the troops and our organization. We have never had to ask Sean for anything, he always generously oers his help before we have a chance to ask him. But to be clear Sean pays for all his own transportation, hotels, and all related expenses for himself and his family and friends and staff, which over the years has added up to tens of thousands of dollars. He does not use any Freedom Alliance Funds or Concert funds in any way, period."
It then goes on to cite financial figures, taken from the same tax filings analyzed by Schlussel, as evidence that roughly 80% of its expenditures are devoted to program activities