For the past week, a group called Defense of Democracies, an off-shoot of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, has run a national TV ad campaign designed to put the squeeze on House Democrats. Since the Dems' refusal to go ahead and submit to granting the telecoms retroactive immunity had "crippled" the nation's intelligence, the ad argues, citizens ought to call lawmakers and tell them to do the right thing. The ad targeted 15 Dems in particular.
Given the size of the buy -- Newsweek puts it at $2 million -- there was a natural suspicion that the telecoms might have played a role in putting up the money. When I asked the question of the group's spokesman, he laughed, but then told me he didn't know who had funded the group.
Newsweek reports that Rep. Jim Marshall (D-GA) -- who was up until Monday a member of the board of advisors of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies -- had similar questions and wrote in his letter resigning from the board that "since the only real dispute involves retroactive immunity, I assume the Foundation's ads are funded by telecommunication companies or others seeking immunity."
But Clifford May, the group's president (and the former communications director of the RNC, it's worth noting), says that the money "had come from individual donors" and that "he had not received 'one dime' from the telecom companiesâthough he did not rule out receiving money from them in the future to finance further ads."
Newsweek also cites "sources at both Verizon and AT&T as saying that their companies weren't involved in FDD's campaign. Of course, given that the telecoms seem unable to comprehend who their real friends are, maybe this shouldn't be such a surprise.
Who those "individual donors" are, the group's not saying -- and isn't required to say by law. Whether they are just "patriotic Americans," as the group's spokesman put it to me, or conservative donors who, like the House GOP, see a political point ripe for exploitation, is an open question.