- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

NEW YORK — Raging against the machine requires some heavy bankrolling, and the fatter coffers of the anti-establishment crowd are easing the strain of battle.

And many of the groups planning protests here during the Republican National Convention next week stand to benefit directly from the blossoming wealth of well-funded, anti-status quo forces.

For instance, WBAI-FM in New York, part of a legion of self-proclaimed “Peace and Justice Radio” stations, is also part of community radio giant Pacifica, whose Pacifica Radio Foundation claimed $13 million in revenue for the 2002 tax year.

Another example is the New York Civil Liberties Union, which two weeks ago opened a temporary satellite office on Eighth Avenue, two blocks from Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention convenes Aug. 30. It claimed assets of $1.6 million on its 2003 tax form.

A.K. Gupta sold $11,000 worth of advertising in less than a week for the Indypendent, turning the 16-page, 15,000-circulation biweekly newspaper into a 24-page guide to the protests here with a press run of 200,000 this week.

Even the Protest Warriors, a conservative anti-protest protest group — which is really rebelling — is leasing loft space a few blocks from Madison Square Garden for its headquarters as it tries to disrupt the disrupters, and never mind the pricey New York real estate costs.

Such wealth among the so-called counterculture is dwarfed by the billion-dollar megaphones used by the two major political parties, of course. But multimillion-dollar groups such as Pacifica and the American Civil Liberties Union are every bit as politically formidable as a midsized political action committee or a D.C. lobbying firm.

It’s the earnest image that often throws the public off.

“Many of these groups are portrayed as ragtag groups, but it turns out that many are heavily financed by people like [billionaire financier] George Soros and the Tides Foundation,” says David Martosko, research director for the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition of restaurants, food companies and citizens advocating consumer choice.

The center also operates a Web site, activistcash.com, that tracks the finances of a number of foundations, nonprofits and government agencies.

“Much of this money comes from nearly 600 big philanthropies that have a net worth well over $30 billion,” Mr. Martosko said. “And every year, around 5 percent of that wealth gets passed around to the groups who do these protests.”

The publishers of pro-protesting magazine Clamor started their own tax-exempt group, Allied Media Projects, in 2002. This allows them to receive cash from larger organizations, such as the Tides Foundation, a munificent giver to the world of liberal causes.

Clamor co-founder Jason Kucsma acknowledged that the magazine has received money from Tides, and added that the group’s tax-exempt entity was done at the urging of Wade Rathke, a veteran activist and chief organizer of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 100.

“If there is a lot of money going around, we aren’t seeing it.” Mr. Kucsma said. “We do what we can with volunteers. And this is my only job, and I don’t get a salary.”

For Mr. Gupta, his selling prowess dovetails nicely with his activism. He has done ad sales before and knows a niche market, which, for the Indypendent, is the anti-President Bush crowd.

“My sales pitch for this was ‘anti-Bush,’” said Mr. Gupta, standing outside the Washington Square Methodist Church near New York University, handing the free newspaper to anyone who would have it. “That’s all I had to say, and they were ready to spend.”

Money is the devil in the details of a demonstration, the often-unidentified factor that keeps everyone guessing.

“We get that question a lot, about who is funding us,” says Kfir Alfia, co-founder of Protest Warrior. “But we are totally grass roots. Printing signs is very inexpensive, running a Web site is also inexpensive. I don’t think people have a realistic idea of what it takes, financially, to run an organization like ours. It really isn’t that much.”

At an organizational meeting last week for United for Peace and Justice (UPJ), tables were stacked high with freshly printed glossy posters disparaging the president. It had the feel of a we-the-people gathering and the buzz of overthrow.

UPJ spokesman Bill Dobbs said the group benefits from contributions large and small, and is allowed tax-exempt contributions from the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, which promotes nonviolent social and economic justice efforts.

Last year, Mr. Dobbs added, the group raised and spent approximately $750,000. But the Aug. 29 march is expected to draw as many as 250,000 people, requiring more resources, he said.

“We hire more people and we raise money on the spot through donations for stickers and leaflets,” he said.

Some groups simply refuse to speak about their finances. The New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York chapter of Planned Parenthood did not return calls. The two are jointly putting together an Aug. 28 rally for women’s rights.

Planned Parenthood of New York City reported revenue of $18 million in 2002. The group’s tax form reported $5.6 million of that came from government grants.

Some of the demonstrators that are preparing to rally against the Republicans, though, are truly self-funded and independent, says Mr. Martosko of the Center for Consumer Freedom.

“Which is good,” he says. “And the large number of the rank-and-file protesters who are part of a bigger group are not aware of the level of higher financing their cause is receiving.”

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