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Conservative Web site, Heritage split

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

Townhall.com, one of the nation's most active conservative Web sites, announced yesterday that it has split from parent company the Heritage Foundation, a District-based conservative think tank.

It's a deliberate strategy for Townhall -- home to 68 columnists and destination reading for 1.5 million people a month. As an independent entity, Townhall no longer will be subject to Internal Revenue Service regulations that prohibit "educational only" groups from mobilizing followers or taking a distinct political stand.

"This is a happy parting," said Townhall President Drew Bond. "Heritage has been a critical ally in building our credibility over the years. With this move, we're now free to fully engage our readers and to call them to action."

Heritage, founded as a public policy research organization in 1973, supports the move.

"We're excited about the new direction," said spokesman Brian Phillips. "The move is a win-win for both Townhall and for the Heritage Foundation. The more voices in the conservative movement, the better."

The former partners will celebrate the coming of age of "the one-stop shop for conservative ideas," as Heritage calls the Web site, with a "launch party" Tuesday..

Meanwhile, Townhall remains a burgeoning clearinghouse, with a reader Web log, featured columnists such as George Will and Ann Coulter, newsletters, editorials, event calendars, stories of interest and links to about 150 conservative-friendly Web sites.

"Townhall has come to bump the ceiling of its own potential. Under Heritage, we could educate people all day long, but we couldn't tell them what to do," Mr. Bond said. "Our audience has grown huge, and the technology exists to harness the power of people with shared ideas -- as long as you get outside those IRS restrictions."

The site also has become an online gathering spot for 300,000 "registered activists" and 115 "coalition partners," including the National Review, the Weekly Standard, the Reagan Ranch and the Media Research Center.

Mr. Bond said he will duke it out with liberal opponents who came to public prominence during the 2004 election.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's vigorous Internet-based presidential campaign in particular showcased that online efforts to mobilize financial and ideological support could succeed in cities and the heartland alike.

"There's a whole spectrum of people who want to know how to act on their beliefs, how to mobilize, contact their congressman, how to meet up. We'll give them the tools to do that," Mr. Bond said.

"The new and improved Townhall launches at exactly the right moment," said author and talk radio host Hugh Hewitt.

"The gains of November 2004 are not the finish line. To borrow from Churchill, it is best to think of the Republican sweep as perhaps the end of the beginning," Mr. Hewitt said. "As opposition to Social Security reform and judicial nominations indicates, the battles are just being joined."