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William Rivers Pitt: Swiftboating the Swiftboaters

Swiftboating the Swiftboaters

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Wednesday 20 September 2006

The Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth were back in the news last week, brought up by Massachusetts senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry. Asked in an interview with the Examiner about the effect of the Swift Boat group on his campaign, Kerry was blunt.

"Kerry says the only reason he didn't compete in more states in 2004," read the article, "was that he ran out of money. He says this was also the reason he did not adequately respond to a series of devastating TV ads by Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth, a group that questioned Kerry's service in Vietnam and criticized his later opposition to the war. 'They had money behind the lies, and we did not have sufficient money behind the truth,' Kerry laments."

It all sounds like something from the dim and distant past, but in fact, the Swiftboaters are still out in force today. More specifically, the money behind the Swiftboaters is out in force, attempting to swing close elections in several states over to the GOP.

A 527 organization called the Economic Freedom Fund (EFF) has been formed in California to do just that. According to its FEC filing, the Economic Freedom Fund was formed to "promote policies and issues favoring economic freedom, growth and prosperity of the economy." The group's sole donor is a man named Bob J. Perry from Texas. Recently, Perry gave $5 million to the EFF, one of the largest single donations to any 527 organization this year, an amount that exceeds the $4.5 million Perry gave to the Swift Boat Veterans in 2004.

In short, Mr. Perry was the main force behind the Swift Boat Veterans, and is today the main force behind the Economic Freedom Fund. The EFF just made the largest media buy to date in a close Iowa race, to the tune of $446,850, for ads seeking to undercut Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell. Huge expenditures by EFF for television ads, direct mailings and robo-calls have also been made to affect races in Georgia, West Virginia and Indiana.

This time, however, the Swiftboaters are not going unanswered. James Boyce, a fifteen-year marketing and advertising veteran who served as a senior advisor to Kerry's presidential campaign, has organized a watchdog group called The Patriot Project. Its mission, according to Boyce, is to "defend any man or woman, regardless of party or affiliation, who is attacked or defamed and whose patriotism is questioned simply because they exercise their rights as Americans. The primary way we do this is to expose and make transparent front groups so that voters who hear their advertising and charges can make an informed decision about those claims.

I asked Mr. Boyce what Perry and the EFF are trying to promote with all this spending. "I'm not sure what they're really trying to promote," said Boyce, "but I can promise you that it has precious little to do with either the economy or freedom. What everyone needs to be aware of is that this is a classic right wing 527 front group, nothing more, nothing less. In this case, a very wealthy Republican donor has given an enormous sum of money to a prominent Republican lawyer who is running a 527 out of his law office. There is one donor, one contact for EFF listed in the filing documents and $5,000,000 in the bank."

"Bob Perry is a wealthy Texas Republican donor," continued Boyce, "who invests heavily in Republican candidates and causes. He runs Perry Homes, is one of the top ten political donors in the country, and has been reported, by many sources, to be a good friend of Karl Rove's. Mr. Perry can speak to his motivations but it's been my experience that successful businessmen don't invest a penny without an expectation of a positive return on their investments."

"Public records show that not only was Mr. Perry an early donor to the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth," continued Boyce, "giving $100,000 on June 30, 2004, well before they launched their public efforts that August, but that he also gave $1,000,000 on October 18, 2004, to fund the final advertising push against Senator Kerry. Mr. Perry gave the Swift Boat Veterans $4,450,000 in total in less than four months and was one of three men who essentially funded the Swift Boat attacks. Bob Perry, T. Boone Pickens and Harold Simmons gave the Swift Boaters close to $10,000,000. This is a core fact of right wing front groups. They are not grassroots movements but political operations funded by a small group of very wealthy donors for political gain."

Mr. Perry and the EFF do not appear to be operating wholly in the shadows this time around. The attorney general of Indiana has sued EFF to stop automated telephone calls funded by EFF that are targeting Democratic candidate Baron Hill in the 9th District congressional race.

"The attorney general's office filed a lawsuit in Brown Circuit Court in Nashville seeking temporary and permanent injunctions against the calls as violations of Indiana's telemarketing law and fines of $5,000 for each violation," according to a report by the Associated Press. "A hearing in the case is set for September 27. Attorney General Steve Carter received 12 consumer complaints over the calls, including one from Philip Wilkinson, 41, of Bloomington, who said he was on the state's do-not-call list and is offended by negative political ads."

This is heartening, but Perry and EFF are still making significant waves in several important races. "Let the voter beware," warns Boyce. "At the Patriot Project, we firmly believe that freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our democracy, but we also believe that it's pretty important you know who it is you're actually speaking to. I think the surge of skepticism regarding this group is very encouraging. People are really starting to wonder where these groups come from, who's behind them and what their true goals really are. I think that's a great sign, and we're certainly doing everything we can to aid that process."


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

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