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Mar. 26 2010 - 2:05 pm | 1,671 views | 3 recommendations | 13 comments

Following the money in Hannity-Freedom Alliance scam

Oliver North mug shot

Image via Wikipedia

Debbie Schlussel is back today with the next part of the Hannity-Freedom Alliance story, reporting that she has tracked down the source of the payment for the high priced goodies lavished on Hannity as he fronts for Ollie North’s military charity.

For those of you who may not have been following this story, Ms. Schlussel has done what few conservatives would be willing to do – take on one of her own. Given the price David Frum paid this week for taking on his own party – the loss of his job – it’s not hard to understand why attacking fellow conservatives, or even publicly disagreeing with them, can be a dangerous occupation.

In keeping with Freedom Alliance’s modus operandi of misleading while technically telling the truth, it appears that the private jets and other benefits that come with being Sean Hannity were, in fact, not paid for by the charity. However, the organization’s suggestion that Hannity paid for these high priced luxuries out of his own pocket – not quite so true. It now seems highly likely, if not a certainty, that the expensive travel benefits provided Hannity were paid for out of the ticket sales of the Freedom Concerts, the organization that promises that all net proceeds go to Freedom Alliance.

To get the ‘flavor’ of this thing, take a look at the Freedom Concerts web page. Pictured on the top of the page, in all his glory, is Sean Hannity. As you scroll further down the page, you’ll see the coming schedule of concerts for this year, followed by a photo of Col. Ollie North and then a message that reads, in part –

All net proceed from ticket (after musical talent, production, promotion and venue expenses) are donated to the Scholarship Fund, aiding greatly in this effort to assist hundreds of families who have lost their loved ones while they were protecting and defending our nation and our freedoms.
Via Freedom Concerts.com

Of course, the devil is always in the details.

Despite the great efforts taken to convince us that the Freedom Concerts are a function and extension of the Freedom Alliance charity, they are not. In fact, it turns out that the shows are profit-making ventures owned and operated by one Duane Ward of Franklin, Tennessee.

Who is Duane Ward? Schlussel reports that Mr. Ward just so happens to be Oliver North’s longtime PR man and the owner of Premiere Speakers Bureau, the speaking engagement agency for both North and Hannity, as well as many FOX News and other conservative personalities. The company also handles all the merchandising for Freedom Concerts and the Freedom Alliance and makes a pretty penny doing so.

In the past, tickets to Freedom Concerts have informed purchasers that approximately $4.00 of the ticket price goes to the cost of renting the concert facility with a guarantee of just $4.00-$4.50 being donated to Freedom Alliance- this on ticket prices that average about $65.00 (higher now according to the concert web page.) The organization then says that all proceeds remaining after costs goes to benefit the charitable purposes of Freedom Alliance which involves providing scholarships to the children of soldiers killed in battle and money for soldiers who return home with life changing injuries. Clearly, there’s a pretty healthy spread between the $8 to $10 accounted for and the remainder of the full ticket price.

So where does all this unaccounted for money actually end up?

Certainly, some of it is used to pay the performers -although Schlussel reports that many, if not most, performers are convinced to not only work for free but also cover their own traveling costs so that more money is available for the charity. As for the rest of it?

Schlussel has turned up multiple sources who confirm that the extravagant private jets and luxury hotel suites for Hannity and his entourage are paid from the revenues of the ticket sales when that money could – and if we are to believe the statements of Freedom Concerts and the Freedom Alliance – should be going to those who are listed as the beneficiaries of the Freedom Alliance charities. And while Mr. Wade refuses to turn over the books of Freedom Concerts, it would not be unreasonable to expect that there might be some profit in there for Mr. Wade and his company.

Nothing like a little good old-fashioned American patriotism for fun and profit, yes?

Apparently, the unseemliness of it all has not escaped the attention of Col. North, if not Mr. Hannity.

While those buying tickets think all of the proceeds of the concerts go to the Freedom Alliance, in fact, none of the proceeds go to the charity, only the $4 surcharge.  The source confirmed that Premiere paid for Hannity (out of Freedom Concerts revenue) to fly to many of the concerts on private jets, along with his entourage, and the source confirms the conversation I described in my report last week, in which North scolded Hannity for wasting so much of the Freedom Concert money on private jets, swanky suites, and luxe SUVs. The source is the second source to confirm the conversation. The particular conversation cited took place in 2008, and there were several witnesses to it, including one of Hannity’s radio producers, who is married to Oliver North’s former personal assistant. Don’t look for her to tell the truth . . . if either of them ever wants to work again.

Via Debbie Schlussel

So, how do well-meaning Americans seeking to help our military men and women and their famlies get caught up in these questionable charity schemes?

You would be surprised.

Tomorrow, this page will report on how a federal government agency – existing precisely for the purpose of helping our 2 million plus federal employees make wise decisions when choosing a charity worthy of their donations – is badly misleading and misinforming the very people they are supposed to be helping.

You aren’t going to like what you learn.


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  1. collapse expand

    To quote Taibbi (although after reading David Sirota’s “The Uprising” I’m not sure who said it first), “Politics is like Hollywood for ugly people.” The extent to which this is true is debatable (and as a citizen of Los Angeles who spent time in the entertainment industry, maybe Rick can elaborate on it more), but in this case it seems very applicable. It seems that Hannity, in his desire to live the glamorous life he thinks he deserves and hang out with beautiful and beloved showbiz stars, has corrupted his own charity. Pretty sad.

    • collapse expand

      I don’t think that is what it is about. I think Hannity has become a little too full of himself, clearly understands the benefits to his image of appearing to support our troops but unwilling to fly commerical if it means putting more money into the purposes of the charity. This obviously calls into question his sincerity. Of equal importance, the people who are pouring millions into Freedom Alliance, believing the money is reaching those in need, should be aware that the money is not getting there – rather its being spent on things like private jets for Hannity.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    I hope you are not talking about JFK’s program being corrupted.

  3. collapse expand

    They should have had enough time to clear up anything being misinterpreted by now, maybe soon the forgive us statement appears. This reflects bad on the good charities too and the need is greater than ever.

  4. collapse expand


    I am working on a set of comments for Debbie Schlussel’s original post about the Freedom Alliance, but I think I’ll be posting a comment to your May 20 post about Freedom Alliance before posting it to her blog.

    But first, I just posted a comment on Debbie Schlussel’s blog concerning this $4 surcharge issue, and wanted to also post it here (sorry about the length).

    Posted to Schlussel’s blog:

    “You write of the $4 surcharge on FC tickets as the only fund that goes to Freedom Alliance, and you are correct that in the case of the July 26, 2007 Chula Vista (San Diego) concert, $4 was set aside for FA. But I believe this was a “guaranteed” amount, and that the actual amount was much more.

    In their Summer, 2009 newsletter, Freedom Alliance states that, “Since the first Freedom Concert in 2003, these events have helped raise more than $9 million to support the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund.”


    Since that newsletter was published BEFORE the 2009 concerts, that means that over the six prior years (2003 – 2008) the concerts raised an average of $1.5M/year. There were five concerts in 2007, so let’s say the average payout to FA is $300,000/concert.

    The Coors Amphitheatre (now called “Cricket Amphitheatre) seats 20,000. At $4 surcharge per ticket, that’s $80,000.

    How do we explain the other $220,000?

    Pretty simple. Let’s look at that ticket breakdown from the daily Kos:

    2050 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista, CA 91911
    WHEN:Thursday – July 26, 2007 7:30 PM (Doors open at 5:30 PM)
    TICKETS: Prices: $38.00 – $78.00 PURCHASE TICKETS »
    The following fees are included in the above ticket prices: $4.75 facility fee, $4.25 parking fee, and a $4.00 donation to the Freedom Alliance

    There’s the $4.00 donation
    Parking is $4.25
    The $4.75 “facility fee” not the cost to rent the facility, but most likely a city imposed tax, somewhat similar to a hotel tax. I have not been able to confirm this on the Chula Vista govt. website, but I did find a mention in a newsletter of a “public facilities fee” that was imposed to pay for new police station.

    So, on an “average” $50 ticket, we’re looking at $37 going to the “gate” ($50-$4.75-$4.25-$4). For 20K seats, that’s $740K gross.

    Now, let’s subtract rental of the amphitheatre, liability insurance, venue security, [union] stagehands, venue staff, transportation, lighting, sound, etc. And if the headliners themselves donate their performance, what about the band and backup singers? Don’t forget to pay the concert organizer (may or may not be a Premier employee) and their staff. Finally, throw in a private jet, an Escalade Limo and a luxe hotel for Hannity.

    All that could eat up $400K – $500K, leaving $240K – $340K profit.

    Finally, the Coors Amphitheatre was one of the larger venues on the five concert tour. Some of the arenas seat about 10,000, so with similar ticket prices, the gate would be about half of the example above, and using that $4 figure in your article, would only generate $40,000 for Freedom Alliance.

    Assume a mix of 2 amphitheaters and 3 arenas. That would mean that FA would get only $280,000 for the whole five show season.

    Yet FA reports an annual average from the concerts of $1.5M.
    Why the difference?

    Obviously, they are receiving much more than that $4/ticket surcharge.

  5. collapse expand

    FWIW, yesterday I posted a series of responses on Ms. Schlussel’s website to the entry that spawned this post. This “conversation” was held with another commenter, “little al”.

    I was polite, yet deliberate in my assertions that Ms. Schlussel was missing some key elements of the Freedom Alliance mission, and showing by derivation that that her claim (that the only money that went to FA from the Freedom concerts was a $4 donation per ticket) could not possibly be true.

    Unfortunately, I made the mistake in my final post to “Al” of stating that if Debbie was wrong about the $4, and that the actual proceeds from all of the concerts from 2003 – 2009 was actually $10M, then her assertion that Premier entertainment was pulling a fast one was wrong.

    I checked for any replies this morning, and found that all of my replies to “Al” appear to have been deleted.

    When I submitted a single line post, “Why were my replies to Al [apparently] deleted?”, it did not show up in the list of comments.

    I have heard that Debbie Schussel will ignore or remove posts that don’t agree with the central premise of her argument, and I think that’s what happened here.

    I had written in one of my posts that I had always enjoyed Debbie’s interviews on a San Francisco talk radio station, and that’s why I was interested in her blog.

    I have lost a lot of respect for her.

    If you go to her site to see the article that Rick references above and look at the last three or four comments by “little al” you’ll see that it’s a one-sided conversation.

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    I am an attorney in Southern California, and a frequent writer, speaker and consultant on health care policy and politics. To that end, I am active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists. Based in beautiful Santa Monica, California, I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to be a contributing editor to True/Slant. I've recently finished a book designed to make the health care debate understandable to the average reader, and expect it to be out in the next five months or earlier. In my 'spare time', I continue to write for television and, occasionally, for comic books.

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