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Overview:

 
Grassfire.org

Stated Purpose:
Building a proactive alliance of conservative citizens who can make a difference in our nation.

Tax Status:
501(c)(4)

Political Orientation:
Republican

Profile:
September 2004 — Grassfire.org, an Iowa-based "alliance of conservative citizens," has disseminated messages supporting President Bush's re-election bid.1

Grassfire began a campaign of pro-Bush and anti-Kerry ads in late 2003.2 Grassfire's first ad, in December 2003, chronicled torture of Iraqi people at the hands of Saddam Hussein, and asked viewers to tell Congress and the media that they support President Bush. The second criticized the pro-Democratic organization MoveOn.org, and urged viewers to show groups like MoveOn.org that "right-minded Americans" support the president. The third ad castigated John Kerry for voting against military spending, supporting gay rights, and opposing both tax cuts and the balanced budget amendment.3

The group appears to harbor particular enmity for MoveOn.org. It is sponsoring an "I support the commander in chief petition," which also declares: "I am also deeply concerned about the damaging efforts of radical leftist organizations like MoveOn.org who continue to use the media to distort and mislead the citizens of our nation—in hopes of undermining the confidence and credibility of our president."4

Grassfire solicits contributions on its Web site. To those who contribute $30 or more the group promises to rush a copy of "our top-selling book, 'George Bush: On God And Country.'"

Grassfire employs Shirley & Banister Public Affairs as its public relations firm.5 That firm is headed by Craig Shirley, who was a member of the team that developed the "Willie Horton" ad in 1988. That ad blamed Gov. Michael Dukakis (D-Mass.), who was the running for president against Vice President George H.W. Bush, for a furlough program that allowed Horton to spend a weekend out of jail during which he raped a woman.6 7

Currently, Shirley's firm serves as a consultant to the Republican National Committee, the National Rifle Association and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America. In 2002, Shirley served on the board of directors of the United Seniors Association.8

Grassfire failed to comply with Public Citizen's request to view its IRS application for exempt status within the statutorily required 30-day period. Because the organization did not return telephone calls, Public Citizen contacted Shirley & Banister in hopes the firm would help obtain the forms. The e-mail request made its way to Shirley, who copied Public Citizen in a reply to one of his staffers:

"Public Citizen is an ultra-leftist, anti-conservative, anti-Bush organization. If they bother you one more time, please advise me soonest and I will have the lawyers alert the FBI and the Virginia Attorney General's office to investigate [Public Citizen Senior Researcher Taylor] Lincoln and Public Citizen for any and all laws they may have broken and to prosecute both Mr. Lincoln and Public Citizen to the fullest extent of the law."9

An official from Grassfire called the next day to arrange to send the forms to Public Citizen.

1   Grassfire.org Web site. Available at www.grassfire.org. Viewed on September 3, 2004.
2   Grassfire.org Web site. (Available at www.grassfire.org. Accessed on May 21, 2004.)
3   Grassfire.org Web site. (Available at www.grassfire.org. Accessed on May 21, 2004.)
4   Grassfire.org Web site. (Available at www.grassfire.org. Accessed on May 21, 2004.)
5   Max Pulsinelli, Shirley and Bannister Public Affairs account executive, e-mail to Public Citizen Senior Researcher Taylor Lincoln, May 18, 2004.
6   Mark Humbert, "GOP Ad Men Ready For Cuomo," Associated Press, Nov. 21, 1991.
7   Steven W. Colford, "Bill vs. Bush: How Experts Would Position Each For Victory In Fall," Advertising Age, May 18, 1992.
8   Public Citizen's analysis of data contained in the New Stealth PACs database. Data collected from groups' Web sites and annual tax forms, press reports, academic papers on activities of independent political groups and interviews by Public Citizen research staff.
9   Craig Shirley e-mail to Shirley & Banister Account Executive Max Pulsinelli and Public Citizen Senior Researcher Taylor Linoln, May 18, 2004.



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