Friday March 3, 2006

After critical article, conservative nonprofit accuses Raw Story of violating copyright


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The National Center for Public Policy Research, the conservative nonprofit where fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff served as a director, has instructed RAW STORY to remove a fundraising letter the group sent in 2004.

Noland MacKenzie Canter, III, a lawyer for the group, says the publication of the center’s fundraising letter violates their copyright. To many outside Washington, the center is known for being the group that Abramoff used to cover posh junkets for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).

RAW STORY published the letter in January of 2005. The story it accompanied detailed the effort by the conservative nonprofit to raise money from senior citizens by disguising a solicitation for a political donation under the guise of a “Task Force” to save Social Security.


Sent amidst a climate of growing concern about the Social Security program, the group's letters targeted seniors of both parties, aiming to convince them their Social Security benefits were in jeopardy in hopes of inducing them to donate money. The mailings also encouraged seniors to keep the missive secret from others, perhaps even from family members.

"Inside your sealed envelope is information regarding the potential collapse of the Social Security system -- and how it can endanger you and the entire United States senior citizen population," NCPPR president Amy Ridenour writes on behalf of the National Social Security Task Force (Read the letter here).

"It is also critical that you share this pertinent information ONLY [sic] with other trustworthy individuals."

The task force appears little more than a paper dragon. When asked about why it wasn’t mentioned on the center's website, NCPPR executive director David Almasi told RAW STORY in 2005, “We [don’t] currently have Internet access in our office.”

Canter says the letter came to his attention only after this site ran an article raising questions about Ridenour and her ties to an Abramoff client, the prime minister of Malaysia. When asked why the group declined to seek the letter’s removal when it was initially published, Canter said, “I don’t have any comment.”

“The first it came to my attention was after that Feb. 21 article was published,” he added.

In his "cease and desist" email message, Canter declared, "The Center is the exclusive owner of the copyright in and to this letter. The Center has not authorized Raw Story to reproduce this letter... Accordingly, Raw Story has infringed the copyright of the Center in and to this letter. You are instructed forthwith to delete this letter and all other copyrighted materials of the Center and to cease and desist from further infringements."

Attorneys say the claim is spurious. But in order to obviate any further concern, RAW STORY has decided to remove the complete letters and reprint them in detailed excerpt form. Full copies of the letter are available upon request to others who wish to use them for reportorial purposes.

Cease and desist came after article linking president, Abramoff client

The call for the letter’s removal comes quickly on the heels of an article raising questions about Ridenour’s role in writing an editorial that favored Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, a client of Abramoff’s who paid $2.2 million to arrange a visit with President Bush in 2002. At the time of the editorial, Abramoff was a board member of Ridenour's group.

In her editorial, published in the Washington Times, Ridenour declared that Mahathir’s opponent Anwar Ibrahim had “close links to radical Islamic fundamentalist groups” and sought to “destabilize” the Malaysian government.

Ridenour’s article came amidst political unrest in Malaysia. Anwar had recently been sentenced to nine years in prison on sodomy and corruption charges. Some charges were questioned after witnesses recanted confessions; the allegations were seen as a political response to rallies Anwar led that called for Matathir’s resignation and for reforms. Soon thereafter, Anwar was arrested.

Anwar was released from prison in 2004. His opposition party called the charges a “mockery of justice.”

Ridenour's editorial drew sharp rebukes in Malaysia. Anwar’s wife called Ridenour’s statements "outright lies and half-truths with certain facts." Lim Kit Siang, a member of the Malaysian parliament, all but accused Ridenour of being paid to write the article in 2001.

Malaysians, he said, were entitled to know whether Ridenour and NCPPR "have been hired in a campaign to win the hearts of Washington, whether taxpayers' monies are involved in the retention of American lobby groups to provide ‘sweeteners’ to pave the way for a meeting between the Prime Minister and President Bush, and whether the KMM and the militant Islam issues are being used to win the ear of Washington.”

"Although Amy Ridenour denies that she and her organisation had been paid by the Malaysian Government or any other entity for the outrageous report," Lim added. "She should identify who are the Malaysian officials and individuals who had fed her with the materials for her article."

Lim’s statements were precocious – just a year later, Mahathir would meet with President Bush after a payoff to Abramoff, a director on Ridenour’s board.

No evidence has emerged that Ridenour received payment for the article. But RAW STORY has been unable to locate any evidence the group had previously taken a position on the internal affairs of Malaysia prior to Abramoff’s lobbying work.

Ridenour did not respond to three requests for comment on this article. She has previously denied that she received any payment for its publication.

About the letters, however, Ridenour is unapologetic.

In 1998, The San Francisco Examiner profiled 86-year-old Oakland resident Faye Shelby who had been deluged by direct mail scams seeking money on issues including Social Security. The letters so distressed the nursing home resident that she lay awake at night worrying about what crisis most deserved her help.

"I didn't know that I could just turn them down," Shelby told the Examiner. "I was thinking it was something I had to do. . . . I thought if I didn't correspond about Social Security, I wouldn't get my checks."

Ridenour defends the letters as legitimate fundraising tools.

"We assume most people are capable of taking care of themselves, and if there is something they have a desire about, they will let us know," NCPPR president Ridenour told the San Francisco Examiner.

Following is the cover page of the letter and several other pages excerpted.

Excerpts from three other pages:

Correction: Due to an editing error, Noland Mackenzie Canter was referred to in a previous edition of this article as Mackenzie. His last name is Canter.