- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The chairman of the United Service Organizations defended its decision to pair with MoveOn.org to provide phone cards to U.S. troops after some USO board members were outraged by a partnership with a group that opposes the Iraq war.

At least one board member, Vietnam veteran John Gioia, called for USO President Edward Powell to be fired over his decision to accept more than $350,000 from MoveOn’s members to buy phone cards for troops overseas.

In September, MoveOn angered opponents and even some supporters by placing an advertisement in the New York Times in advance of congressional testimony by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, about the status of President Bush’s war strategy. The ad said, “General Petraeus, or General Betray Us?”

That’s hardly a sentiment felt by USO board members, many of whom are retired military officers or Bush appointees.

There were rumblings of discontent over Mr. Powell’s decision last month to accept MoveOn’s offer to e-mail its 3.3 million members soliciting $15 contributions to pay for the phone cards.

“USO is partnering with an anti-war, anti-administration organization that castigates the efforts of General Petraeus and our troops — past and present — who have served in Iraq,” Mr. Gioia said in an e-mail to other USO directors and employees. “I am disgusted by this action.”

William Moll, chairman of the USO’s board of governors, defended Mr. Powell’s decision, saying in an e-mail to fellow directors that the organization welcomes contributions regardless of the political slant of the donor. He said special steps were taken to make sure MoveOn didn’t make partisan or controversial statements when soliciting their members to give to the USO.

The Associated Press obtained the e-mails from a USO official who requested anonymity because the messages were not intended for wide distribution.

The USO has helped troops for more than six decades, bringing entertainment overseas, providing care packages and providing shelter to families visiting injured service members. The organization recently received a $20 million appropriation from Congress to supplement the money it raises privately.

Mr. Moll also noted that the USO accepts help from FreedomsWatch.org, a conservative group supporting the U.S. mission in Iraq, and that Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, have posted appeals on their Web sites urging people to give to the USO.

“We do not ask donors for their political preferences,” Mr. Moll wrote. “We expect only that they support our fighting forces.”

In a brief interview, Mr. Gioia said yesterday that he hopes the USO will come to the conclusion that it was a mistake to team with MoveOn and will return the money raised through the group.

“I think we have a chance to solve it internally,” Mr. Gioia said.

USO spokesman Mark Phillips said Mr. Powell stood by his “carefully considered” decision.

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