Conservatives Invoke Case in Fund-Raising Campaigns
Published on Friday, March 25, 2005 the New York Times
Conservatives Invoke Case in Fund-Raising Campaigns
by David D. Kirkpatrick
 

Videotape of Terri Schiavo blinking at her parents has inspired donations from people around the country to the foundation set up to help pay for the family's legal battle. But many other groups are soliciting donations in her name as well, some for a much broader agenda.

"Help Save Terri Schiavo's Life!" says the Web site of the Traditional Values Coalition, a Christian conservative group best known for its campaigns against gay rights. Next to a link to the Web site of her parents' foundation is a pitch to "become an active supporter of the Traditional Values Coalition by pledging a monthly gift."

"What this issue has done is it has galvanized people the way nothing could have done in an off-election year," said Rev. Lou Sheldon, the founder of the group, acknowledging that the case of Ms. Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged Florida woman, had moved many to open up their checkbooks. "That is what I see as the blessing that dear Terri's life is offering to the conservative Christian movement in America."

Mr. Sheldon, whose organization is based in Anaheim, Calif., said his group had sent e-mail messages and direct mailings telling supporters to call elected officials about the Schiavo case and usually asking for donations as well.

Voice for Terri, a coalition of anti-abortion and Christian conservative groups, is one of several organizations that has sent e-mail messages and set up Web sites pointedly criticizing Ms. Schiavo's husband, Michael, who has fought for years to have his wife's feeding tube removed over the objections of her parents. Troy Newman, the president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and a spokesman for Voice for Terri, said the coalition was spending the money it raised to cover the costs of rallies, of hotel rooms and of rental cars for organizers of protests in Florida, and of e-mail and letter-writing campaigns.

"This is not something you make money off of," Mr. Newman said. "It is a tragedy."

The Web site of Ms. Schiavo's parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, terrisfight.org, warns visitors that their foundation and Web site are the only legitimate places to contribute to her legal defense.

"Any other source that claims to be a fund-raising effort on her behalf should be brought to our attention here," the site says.

Paul Nelson, the president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which certifies the accounting of many of the best-known evangelical charities, said his organization frowned on groups raising money for causes peripheral to their work. And Mr. Nelson said any accusations or criticisms against Mr. Schiavo or others that were raised on Web sites and could not be proved would stretch his organization's requirement that all fund-raising be truthful.

None of these conservative groups would say how much they had raised so far by invoking the Schiavo case.

The connections can be complicated. Ms. Schiavo's parents invited Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, who is estranged from the group, to help organize rallies and protests for their cause. Mr. Terry, in turn, asked his friends and fellow conservative activists, William Greene and Philip Sheldon - the son of Lou Sheldon of Traditional Values - to help raise money through their organization RightMarch.com.

The two founded RightMarch.com two years ago "to counter the well-financed antics of radical left-wing groups like MoveOn.org," according to the group's Web site. Often quoting Ms. Schiavo's father's endorsement of Mr. Terry, their organization has taken out advertisements in USA Today and The Washington Times, and on radio stations around the country, directing supporters to its Web site. It has also sent millions of e-mail messages to its mailing list urging "Save Terri Schiavo from starvation!" and asking for donations.

Mr. Greene, who is also president of Strategic Internet Campaign Management (the acronym is pronounced "sic 'em," according to the group's Web site), said he did not expect to raise more than the group spent on advertising and computer services for the battle over Ms. Schiavo, but any surplus would be spent on conservative causes.

"General operating procedure for anyone, I guess," Mr. Greene said.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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