Saturday, October 20, 2007

Limbaugh Sells Critical Letter for $2.1 Million

Published: October 20, 2007

After Rush Limbaugh referred to Iraq war veterans critical of the war as “phony soldiers,” he received a letter of complaint signed by 41 Democratic senators. He decided to auction the letter, which he described as “this glittering jewel of colossal ignorance,” for charity, and he pledged to match the price, dollar for dollar.

On Thursday night, Mr. Limbaugh, the conservative radio talk show host, said he thought the letter would bring in as much as $1 million. But he was wrong.

When the eBay auction closed Friday afternoon, the winning bid was $2.1 million. It is the largest amount ever paid for an item sold on eBay for the benefit of a charity.

The money will go to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation Inc., a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization that provides scholarships and other assistance to families of Marines and federal law enforcement officials who die or are wounded in the line of duty. Mr. Limbaugh is a director of the foundation, which had total revenues of $5.2 million last year.

“It’s unbelievable,” said James K. Kallstrom, the retired head of the F.B.I. office in New York, who is chairman of the foundation. He said the charity would meet on Monday to decide how to spend the money. “We might increase the size of the bonds we give these children, and we’ll probably do a lot more for the wounded veterans,” he said. “It’s almost unlimited what you can do for them.”

The letter was purchased by the Eugene B. Casey Foundation, a $294 million foundation in Gaithersburg, Md., that has given money to a wide range of organizations, including the Washington Opera and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. In a statement, the foundation said its purchase was intended to demonstrate its belief in freedom of speech and “to support Rush Limbaugh, his views and his continuing education of us.”

Mr. Limbaugh, who declined a request for an interview, had touted the sale on his show and elsewhere. He said fans had written him with concerns that wealthy liberals like George Soros would drive the price of the letter to $20 million or more in hopes of bankrupting him.

“It’s just amazing,” Mr. Limbaugh told Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes of the Fox television program Hannity & Colmes on Thursday night, when the bidding stood at $851,000. “This is more fun than I’ve ever had in my life.”

He predicted the sale’s success would anger the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, a signer of the letter, who Mr. Limbaugh calls “Dingy Harry.”

But in a statement on the floor of the Senate on Friday, Mr. Reid praised the auction. “I strongly believe that when we can put our differences aside, even Harry Reid and Rush Limbaugh, we should do that and try to accomplish good things for the American people,” he said.

Dated Oct. 7, the letter said: “Although Americans of good will debate the merits of this war, we can all agree that those who serve with such great courage deserve our deepest respect and gratitude. That is why Rush Limbaugh’s recent characterization of troops who oppose the war as ‘phony soldiers’ is such an outrage.”

Mr. Limbaugh has said that he was only referring to one soldier who was critical of the war and had served only 44 days in the Army and never seen combat.

Marcus S. Owens, a lawyer who until 2000 headed the division of the Internal Revenue Service that oversees charities and foundations, said the Casey foundation might be liable for taxes because it would have difficulty demonstrating that the purchase of the letter furthered a charitable purpose. “They’d have to establish the link between the transfer of money for that letter and promoting free speech, and that’s going to be tough,” Mr. Owens said.

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