Glenn Beck’s 8/28 Restoring Honor Rally has already drawn all sorts of criticism. It’s scheduled to take place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech – which he delivered on the steps of the memorial in 1963. Given that Beck has said President Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people,” some black civil rights feel the rally’s location and scheduling are offensive.
What’s gotten less attention, however, is the group that will financially benefit from the event, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF). All proceeds raised through Glenn Beck’s promotion of the event go to SOWF – once costs for the rally itself are covered.
The charity, founded in 1980, provides college scholarships for children of special operations personnel killed in action or in training. SOWF is very well-run, with low administrative costs and a four-star rating from the watchdog group Charity Navigator. Some 160 of its scholarship recipients have graduated from college in the past 30 years and there are more than 100 students in college now.
SOWF, which has only eight staff members, is happily inundated thanks to Glenn Beck’s promotional efforts. The group typically raises money through banquet dinners – the most one of these events has ever raised is $1 million, which caused the SOWF staff to “do a little happy dance,” according to Edie Rosenthal, a retired Navy lieutenant commander and spokeswoman for the group. Since Glenn Beck has started talking about the group on his radio and television shows in advance of the 8/28 rally, some $5 million in donations have poured in. “We’ve never had an event that cost this much either,” says Rosenthal. “I was at the Lincoln Memorial just looking at the number of port-a-potties and the screens that are being set up.”
These and other logistics for the rally cost $1 million, according to Rosenthal; the rest of the money raised will go to SOWF coffers. (This arrangement was enough to cause ABC News, which had donated to the event, to pull out.) Rosenthal says Beck is hoping to personally present her group with a $5 million check at the event. (The group also provides counseling and gives $2,000 grants to families of special operations personnel wounded in combat to help the families travel to the hospital.)
Last night, Glenn Beck invited two recipients of assistance from SOWF on his Fox News show and the charity had one of its biggest fundraising days ever, bringing in $350,000.
This flood of money comes to SOWF at an interesting time. Legislation passed by Congress in 2009 amends the GI bill to provide children of all military personnel killed in the line of duty after September 11, 2001 with full scholarships equal to in-state tuition for a public university, plus a stipend for living expenses and books. This largely duplicates what SOWF does, although Rosenthal said funding from her organization will cover tuition for children whose parents were killed before 9/11 and will also supplement the new government funding. The GI bill, for instance, only pays for four years of college, while SOWF will pay for students to attend school longer if they need to. SOWF also pays for more expensive private college tuition and provides money beyond the limited stipends included in the legislation.
I asked Rosenthal if she worries SOWF’s reputation could be tainted by its affiliation with the divisive Beck. She said SOWF required speakers at the event, who will include Sarah Palin, to sign an agreement promising not to talk politics. “Because we’re involved, it cannot be political,” she says. As for Beck himself, says Rosenthal, “I applaud anyone who stands up and says, ‘I want to do something for the fallen,’ and that is what Glenn is doing. Whatever else he does, as crazy as he gets, that’s a man who stands up.”
So it’s a symbiotic relationship. SOWF gets the largest influx of donations in its history and Beck gets to headline a donor-funded $1 million rally in Washington, DC. Regardless of whether you think Beck’s motives are self-promotional or charitable, or both, there’s some genius in the whole idea.