Front-Group Alert: Softer Voices

This piece originally appeared on

A front group run by a rather well-connected crowd appears to exist entirely to boost the campaign of Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum.

Softer Voices, another 527 front-organization, says on its website:

“Softer Voices is a conservative issue advocacy organization representing citizens concerned with national security, the economy, policies affecting families and society, and maintaining a free and democratic society.”

And which citizens does Softer Voices represent? 

Softer Voices’ “Custodian of Records” is Cleta Mitchell, which the Washington Post describes as,

“a high-profile election lawyer with long ties to the national Republican Party.”

Ms. Mitchell shows up elsewhere.  From The Hill’s September 19 Business & Lobbying column,

ETHICS. Cleta Mitchell, an attorney at Foley & Lardner, is lobbying on House and Senate ethics rules on behalf of the Heritage Foundation.”

The Heritage Foundation is considered by many to be the hub of the conservative movement.

Softer Voices’ Board of Directors consists of:

  • Heather Richardson Higgins, President of the Randolph Foundation, which is associated with the Smith Richardson Foundation – both major funders of the “conservative movement.”  Ms. Higgins is also on the Board of the Hoover Institution, a major part of the conservative movement.  She is the Chair of the Independent Women’s Forum – a conservative movement front-group.  She is a former Senior Fellow at of Newt Gingrich’s Progress & Freedom Foundation.

  • Midge Deckter, Member of the Board of Trustees of the Heritage Foundation, Founding Member, Project for a New American Century (PNAC), also on the Board of the Hoover Institution. She is a Founder of the Independent Women’s Forum. (Deckter is the wife of  Norman Podhoretz.) 

  • Lisa Schiffren Mann - Former speech writer for former Vice President Dan Quayle, Board Member of the Independent Women’s Forum.

  • Nina Rosenwald (Sears heiress) – Board member of the conservative-movement organization Hudson Institute.

  • The Softer Voices Advisory Board includes Judy Kudlow, wife of Lawrence Kudlow of the CNBC show Kudlow & Company (formerly Kudlow & Cramer) and National Review, a “distinguished scholar” at the conservative-movement organization Mercatus Center of George Mason University.

    The group’s donors are also an interesting lot.  Let’s start with $150,000 contributor Carl Lindner.  Lindner recently showed up as only the second funder of another front group, the Economic Freedom Fund, a push-polling, negative attack-ad front-group funded with $5 MILLION! From Kerry swiftboating funder Robert J. Perry.   According to Talking Points Memo,

    It appears another GOP financial heavyweight is getting in on the fun. Carl H. Lindner, part owner of the Cincinnati Reds and No. 133 on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans, has ponied up $50,000 to EFF. More precisely, EFF has recorded a $50,000 donation from the same address as Lindner uses in other FEC reports.

    “Christian philanthropist” Foster Freiss, former President of the Council for National Policy (see here, here, here, here and here), $250,000 

    Frank Hanna, on the Board of conservative movement front-organization Action Institute, $25,000

    Another donor listed in public records is Templeton Fund heir Dr. John Templeton, another 2004 swiftboater funder.  Templeton is associated with the Council for National Policy, $400,000.  According to a New York Sun story, Political Group Shells Out $1M To Boost Santorum's Popularity With Women,

    Dr. Templeton has given about $1 million in the past four years to the College Republican National Committee and has supported other conservative causes, including groups that pilloried Senator Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign, Progress for America and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

    … Under federal law, [Dr. Templeton’s father] Mr. Templeton, who gave $440 million to the foundation in 2004, cannot donate to American political campaigns. The Tennessee native renounced his American citizenship in 1968 and moved to the Bahamas in a bid to avoid taxes on the several billion dollars he reportedly made from his investment empire.

    The Templeton Foundation funds research that seeks common ground between religion and science. The fund has drawn fire for supporting scholars who back the anti-evolution theory known as intelligent design, but foundation officials denied promoting the concept.

    Additionally, from Washington Post’s The Fix,

    While Softer Voices reported raising no money as of June 30, a look at its activity last cycle provides some information on its donors. In the five months between its founding and the end of 2004, Softer Voices reported that it raised nearly $650,000 and spent approximately $730,000. Major contributors included New York-based financier Richard Golder, mutual fund guru Foster Friess and hedge fund manager Bruce Kovner -- the 85th richest man in America, according to a recent Forbes magazine report.

    Meanwhile, public records show that all the expenditures of Softer Voices have gone toward promoting the campaign of Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania.

    When groups like this - hugely funded by very few people - claim to represent “citizens” it’s a good idea to take a closer look. 

    The Patriot Project is working to expose the front groups, their funding, their connections and their tactics.