is a Washington D.C.
lobbying organization. Freedom's Watch is supportive of the Bush
administration's positions in the War on Terror
and of Republican
Congressional candidates. The group is run and supported, in part, by several former officials of the Bush administration. The organization states that its goal is "educating individuals about and advancing public policies that protect America’s interests at home and abroad, foster economic prosperity, and strengthen families." In the 2008 election cycle, Freedom's Watch purchased advertisements in support of Republican congressional candidates.
Freedom's Watch has tight connections to the Republican Jewish Coalition
(RJC) and the American Enterprise Institute
. The group was conceived at a Florida meeting of the RJC in March 2007 in part to counter MoveOn.org
and help the Bush administration sell its Iraq policy. It was founded by a dozen conservatives of immense wealth, most notably Sheldon Adelson
, who donated almost all of its initial funding. Four out of five members of Freedom's Watch original board are Republican Jews, and four of the eight initial donors are Jewish, though board member Matt Brooks said "it would be a mistake to regard the group as having a Jewish direction," and noted that "half of the donors contributing to the group's first $15 million ad campaign are not Jewish."
In 2008, the group became paralyzed by internal problems and plagued by gridlock and infighting, with operatives complaining of Adelson's insistence on parceling out money project by project limiting the group's ability to plan and be nimble. For example, the group spent weeks working on a package for the presidential election, only for Adelson to decline to fund it. Some staff members blamed the problems on Freedom's Watch president Bradley Blakeman, who resigned in March 2008.
Freedom's Watch believes that President Bush's Iraq War
policies should be supported. "More and more Democratic
members agree: The surge
in Iraq is working," according to one ad. "Victory is America's only choice. The group also claims that Iran
is a grave threat to the United States
. According to the group's president, "If Hitler's
warnings were heeded when he wrote 'Mein Kampf
,' he could have been stopped." Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
, he continues, "is giving all the same kind of warning signs to us, and the region — he wants the destruction of the United States and the destruction of Israel." One ad calls Ahmadenijad "a terrorist
- Ari Fleischer, a former Bush press secretary.
- Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC).
- Mel Sembler, a longtime RJC leader and former ambassador to Italy who helped finance the 2000 Florida recount battle.
- William Weidner, a Las Vegas casino operator.
The original president was Bradley Blakeman, though he resigned in March 2008 after a series of high-level staff departures.
Freedom's Watch's donors include:
- Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation and the fifteenth richest American in Forbes magazine's rankings last year, is the top donor.
- Mel Sembler
- John Templeton, Jr, board member of the Templeton Growth Fund and financier of Let Freedom Ring.
- Kevin E. Moley, former U.S. ambassador to international organizations in Geneva, and a senior adviser to Dick Cheney during the 2000 campaign.
- Howard Leach, CEO of Leach Capital and former ambassador to France who also helped fund the Florida recount.
- Anthony Gioia, head of Gioia Management and former ambassador to Malta.
- Richard Fox, co-founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
- Gary Erlbaum, owner of Greentree Properties.
- Ed Snyder, owner of the Philadelphia Flyers and 76'ers.
On August 22
Freedom's Watch announced a $15 million advertising and grass-roots campaign in 20 U.S. states
to maintain Republican support for President Bush's policies. The ads rolled out upon this announcement focused on sacrifices being made by U.S. troops and their families.
On September 13, the group aired a new television ad, challenging a MoveOn.org advertisement which questioned the integrity of General David Petraeus saying "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" and "Cooking the Books for the White House." The advertisement stated, "Name calling, charges of betrayal it's despicable. It's what MoveOn shamefully does — and it's wrong. America and the forces of freedom are winning. MoveOn is losing. Call your Congressman and Senator. Tell them to condemn MoveOn." They also plan to run print advertisements on the subject.
Freedom's Watch also purchased advertisements during the 2008 election cycle in support of Republican congressional candidates. For example, the group purchased $550,000 in advertising in the Mississippi 1st district special election in support of Republican candidate Greg Davis. The group also ran ads in support of Republican candidates in two other special elections to fill vacant house seats in Illinois and Louisiana. All three Republicans were subsequently defeated by their Democratic challengers in historically Republican districts.
Freedom's Watch's first major advertising campaign emphasized the sacrifice of U.S. troops and their families in Iraq. As The New York Times
wrote, "Several of the group's spots suggested that Iraq, rather than Al Qaeda, was behind the Sept. 11 attacks, even though the independent Sept. 11 commission investigation and other inquiries found no evidence of Iraq's involvement." ABC News
, among others, concurred: "The ads also link the war with Sept. 11, despite no reliable evidence Iraq played any role in those attacks. In one advertisement, a war widow claims, "I lost two family members to Al Qaeda -- my uncle, a firefighter, on 9/11, and my husband, Travis, in Iraq. Congress did the right thing, voting to defeat terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan," adding that, "Switching their votes now, for political reasons, it will mean more attacks in America." In another ad, an Iraq war veteran states, "They attacked us, and they will again. They won't stop in Iraq.
In 2008, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee charged that, in a Congressional race in Louisiana, Freedom's Watch was running a television advertisement with a script that came from the National Republican Congressional Committee. Such coordination with the NRCC would be illegal for Freedom's Watch because of the latter's status as an independent group. A media consultant working for Freedom's Watch responded that the apparent origin of the script with the NRCC was the result of an innocent mistake.