Glenn Beck says there’s nothing political about the Aug. 28th “Restoring Honor” rally he is organizing with a veterans group in Washington.
But Sarah Palin will be a main speaker, congressmen such as Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) are helping with fundraising and two of the main engineers of the tea party movement — FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots — are offering volunteers as well as logistical advice.
If anything, the conservative talk show host’s alliances with tea party groups and Republican politicians seem to have further blurred the line between his entertainment empire and a burgeoning political role — which is counter to Beck’s public declarations that he was disengaging from politics after criticism that he used his television and radio shows as a political platform.
The rally and Beck’s increasing political forays have made him an object of suspicion among some conservatives, even as they acknowledge his influence and potential importance as a spokesman.
“The conservative movement is still split on Glenn and whether he’s doing it for himself or doing it for the movement,” said Erick Erickson, founder of the influential conservative blog Red State. Erickson said he’s offered his assistance to Team Beck in his political exploits, which in the past year have included a high-profile battle with the White House, the creation of a network of perhaps hundreds of political groups, and the keynote speech at a major conservative political conference. “Until that question is resolved, I think you’re going to see some groups hesitant to go all in with him.”
Some tea party leaders have rejected Beck’s requests to help with the rally because of concern over his inflammatory rhetoric and fear that he was seeking to leverage their organizational know-how and grass-roots credibility for his own financial benefit, providing little in return.
“They wouldn’t even give us a booth,” said a leader of a tea party-related group that rejected Beck’s entreaties. “I resented their presumption that a relatively small organization like ours would use our connections to promote an event where Glenn Beck and FreedomWorks are featured, and we get no recognition at all. No thanks.”
But others have been happy to ally themselves with Beck. Tea Party Patriots agreed to help promote the rally — and to provide 400 volunteers to staff it, a requirement before the National Park Service will issue a permit — because tea party activists were planning to turn out in droves. Beck lacks the organizational infrastructure or logistical know-how to pull off such a big event, said Jenny Beth Martin, a founder of the Tea Party Patriots.
“We had 350 volunteers in less than 24 hours,” said Martin, who discussed collaborating with Beck when the two met in May at an extravagant Manhattan party hosted by Time magazine. The party feted 100 people Time deemed most influential in 2010 — a list that included Beck and Martin.
Beck’s liberal critics say they have no doubt what the Aug. 28 event really is. “This is purely and simply a political rally to advance Glenn Beck’s political agenda and a big fundraising operation for Glenn Beck Inc.,” said liberal talk radio host Bill Press. He has urged the National Park Service to deny Beck a permit to hold the event at the Lincoln Memorial.
Both the Tea Party Patriots and FreedomWorks, a paid sponsor of Beck’s radio show, are taking advantage of the expected crowds to hold their own events.
FreedomWorks’ political action committee is holding a fundraiser and get-out-the-vote training session the night before Beck’s rally, and the Tea Party Patriots are urging the 500,000 activists on their e-mail list to attend both Beck’s rally and a tea party rally the following day to seek the repeal of the Democratic health care overhaul.
“Glenn has made it clear that the 8/28 Restoring Honor event is non-political, so signs and banners would be inappropriate in that setting,” reads a message on the Patriots website. “However, the 8/29 Recycle Government Tea Party is definitely political, so bring those signs and banners!”
Beck did not attend a massive tea party rally organized by FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots in Washington last September, but he repeatedly took to the airwaves to urge his fans to attend. He also did a special broadcast of his Fox News television show to coincide with the march. Fox came under fire from media ethicists and liberals for whipping up the crowd, and Rupert Murdoch, its owner, later said it wasn’t appropriate for a news network to “be supporting the tea party or any other party.”
Though Beck has promoted this August’s rally on his Fox News show — juxtaposing its message during one February broadcast with an accusation that President Barack Obama ignores God in favor of his union allies and the disgraced community organizing group ACORN — the network has distanced itself from the rally.
“Glenn may mention it from time to time the same way other talent involved in outside ventures mention their books or events, but there is no organized promotion planned for the rally on Fox News, and the network has nothing to do with it,” said Fox executive Bill Shine.
Beck originally envisioned the rally as the final step in a series of “conventions” at which attendees would be charged admission to learn “how to be a political force in your own neighborhood and country.” And, at the rally, he had planned to unveil a political organizing book, called “The Plan,” which he billed as providing “specific policies, principles and, most importantly, action steps” to launch “a new national movement to restore our great country.”
But when Beck decided to partner with the Special Operations Warrior Foundation to fund the event, he scrapped the book launch idea, and recast the rally as a spiritual and patriotic awakening.
“This is not a tea party,” he said on his radio show in May. “This is not a political event. This is to send the message to us and our children and the rest of America: There is a revival going on of values and principles. There is a revival of honor and integrity, and we’re going to demand it of ourselves and our politicians. We are not going to put up with it anymore, in our own lives or in the lives of politicians or our banks and our businesses.”
Beck, whose public relations firm declined a request for Beck to be interviewed, has insisted he initially didn’t realize the Martin Luther King Jr. iconography invoked by the rally’s scheduling and venue. But he has unabashedly embraced it, calling the anniversary of King’s seminal speech “an appropriate day” for his rally, repeatedly chalking the scheduling up to “divine providence” and suggesting his rally may have similar historical significance.
“His dream has been so corrupted,” Beck said on his radio show last month. “It’s time we picked that dream back up and we finished the job,” he said. “If you come,” he told his listeners a week earlier, “I believe this will be remembered as the moment America turned the corner. I don’t know how it works. I don’t’ know if it even works out in my lifetime, but I believe this is the pivot point.”
All the money raised through Beck for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation will first go toward covering the cost of the rally. But Edie Rosenthal, a foundation spokeswoman, told POLITICO in a March interview that the group expected to receive a large donation after the expenses are covered.
Meanwhile, Beck has been actively involved in raising money for the group. Last month, for instance, multiple individuals contributed $65,000 or more to the foundation for the chance to have breakfast with him and Palin, according to a charity auction website, which boasted that “the winners will be seated at the head table next to either Mr. Beck or Governor Palin and will have time to talk and exchange ideas.”
On Friday night, Chaffetz and fellow Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch were to have joined Beck at a fundraiser in Salt Lake City at which guests paid $2,500 get to have their pictures taken with Beck. Proceeds were to go to the foundation. On Saturday, Chaffetz and Hatch were planning to attend one of a series of Beck “American Revival” events at the Energy Solutions Arena in downtown Salt Lake City, where tickets range from $45 to $175. The revenue from this event are expected to go to Beck’s production company, Mercury Radio Arts, which is also putting on the Restoring Honor rally.
Mercury promises that at American Revivals, Beck will “show once and for all that it’s not ‘they the politicians’ but we the people who have the power to restart the heart of America.”
Rosenthal told POLITICO in March that Beck’s people have offered assurances he will leave his politically charged rhetoric behind for the August rally, in keeping with the foundation’s status as a tax-exempt charity registered under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Service code, which prohibits most political activity.
“We’re a pretty low key, small charity, so we would prefer to not have the controversy, but he knows that as a 501(c)3, we have to be very careful that it is a nonpolitical rally,” Rosenthal said. “And I know it’s Glenn Beck, and he’s a very opinionated person, but there’s not going to be any kind of a political agenda.”
Instead, the plan is for Beck to tell rally attendees that, if they want to get involved in politics, they should sign up with FreedomWorks, said the group’s president Matt Kibbe, who has appeared on Beck’s radio show since FreedomWorks became a sponsor to talk tea party politics with Beck.
“This is about cultural renewal and a lot of the themes that he talks about on his show,” Kibbe said of the August rally. “He’ll go on to say, ‘but we do need to organize and we do need to get politically active, and that’s why I’ve joined forces with FreedomWorks, because they’re the guys out there doing this, and I’ve looked around, and they’re the best at what they do.’”
That sounds a lot like the paid sponsorship messages Beck delivers for FreedomWorks on his radio show — an arrangement Kibbe compared with the Heritage Foundation’s sponsorship of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, for which the conservative think tank says it pays $2 million annually.
Kibbe wouldn’t say how much FreedomWorks pays to sponsor Beck’s show, an arrangement that will last through the end of next year, but he did say the group’s fundraising and memberships have spiked since it began advertising on the show earlier this year.
“My job increasingly is going to become faith, hope and charity,” Beck said in delivering one late May sponsorship message. “I don’t know why exactly. I’m just not — politics for me is not the answer. But let me tell you this — politics are a part of this.”
In June, he explained that FreedomWorks is “moving in the political realm. I cannot. I’ve got to move in another direction. But we have got to stay connected. And the only organization that I have found is FreedomWorks. Go to their website, check it out for yourself. Find out what you believe. If they line up with what you believe, you join them, and you stand guard, because freedom works.”