Wade Zirkle, Executive Director of Vets for Freedom Action Fund was invited last week to present a “free speech” commentary segment on the national TV “news” show CBS Evening News With Katie Couric. There is a problem with this. Vets for Freedom Action Fund is a “527” group – a campaign organization that appears to exist soley to support one candidate – Joe Lieberman’s Connecticut campaign for the Senate. So Zirkle’s presentation was not “commentary,” by definition it was a campaign speech supporting a partisan cause, delivered to a national audience a few weeks before an election.
CBS identifies Vets for Freedom Action Fund as a “bipartisan” organization. But it is not. Vets for Freedom Action Fund is entirely founded and controlled by Republican Party-aligned individuals, and its formation follows a pattern of formation of Party-aligned front groups for election-campaign purposes. In the August post Behind the Front: The Creation of Vets for Freedom, Patriot Project exposed Vets for Freedom as a Republican front group. From that post,
This "non-partisan" organization’s website was designed by The Donatelli Group/Campaign Solutions, which previously had worked with the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, as well as the White House-associated Judicial Confirmation Network, yet another well-financed, party-affiliated front group. Other Donatelli Group/Campaign Solutions clients include Bush-Cheney 2004, The Republican National Committee, the 2004 Republican National Convention...
The "non-partisan" Vets for Freedom originally had a privacy statement on their website that read, "We may from time to time share the information our visitors provide with other Republican candidates and other like-minded organizations."
The "non-partisan" Vets for Freedom included William Denman "Wade" Zirkle, who had helped run Republican Jerry Kilgore's 2005 campaign for governor of Virginia, and was campaign manager for Republican Todd Gilbert's 2005 race for the Virginia House of Delegates.
Because Vets for Freedom is a political, Party-affiliated election-campaign "527" organization supporting Joe Lieberman’s Senate Connecticut bid, CBS’ contribution of several minutes of airtime may be an improper corporate campaign contribution. Additionally, the appearance of Vets for Freedom Action Fund on a national nightly-news program bestows unwarranted credibility on Vets for Freedom. In the minds of voters, this elevated their party- and candidate-supporting advertisements to a different level.
However, beyond the impropriety of CBS making this contribution, there may also be a question whether this contribution violated Federal election law. Federal election law prohibits corporate-paid 527 advertising within 30 days of an election if it mentions a candidate. While the CBS/Vets for Freedom “free speech” advertisement did not directly mention Joe Lieberman by name, the fact that Vets for Freedom Action Fund exists entirely for the purpose of supporting this one candidate brings into question whether this was a candidate-support advertisement.
The Patriot Project is working to expose the front groups, their funding, their connections and their tactics.