[promoted by BooMan]

By Susan Gardner
ePluribus Media

Fake name. Fake reporter. Fake news agency. Fake Marine. And now this … Fake nonprofit.

Like almost everything else connected with The Great Pretender, “Jeff Gannon,” aka J.D. Guckert – his name, his “news agency,” his purported conservative family values while selling his “escort services” on the internet – his Free Speech Foundation is looking more and more like a sham “tax-exempt” organization, with the timing of its founding suggesting it was created primarily in response to a $5 million libel lawsuit filed against a rabidly pro-Bush website called, appropriately enough, ProBush.com.

The Lowdown

ProBush.com, run by Pennsylvanian Michael Marino, published an ongoing “Traitor List” (trademarked, he claims) that included former South Dakota Senator James G. Abourezk. In April 2003 Abourezk ran across his name on the site, and Abourezk enlisted his law partner, Todd D. Epp, to look into the matter, according to a September 15, 2003, article in Roll Call (subscription only).

Because ProBush.com, owned by Michael and brother Ben Marino, was listed with domain registry (GoDaddy) that kept its subscribers anonymous, Epp was forced in ensuing weeks to threaten legal action to get Marino’s name. Ultimately, Marino’s account was canceled and his name became known.

Enter … Mr. Guckert, still known back in the heyday of 2003 as “Jeff Gannon,” who registered his Free Speech Foundation on May 7, 2003, with the same domain registration identifiers – J. Daniels, Bedrock Corporation, same contact phone numbers, same server – as his jeffgannon.com site.

The following day, Epp filed a “demand letter” asking for an apology and a retraction, according to Roll Call.

Free Speech Foundation’s domain remained dormant on the web for a few months, but on July 31, 2003 – coincidentally precisely one day after ProBush.com attorneys filed a motion for dismissal – a Paypal donation account was set-up.

A week later, a web archive shot of ProBush.com shows this:

On September 11, 2003, Free Speech Foundation registered with the state of Delaware as follows:

Entity Details

File Number: 3702698

Incorporation Date/Formation Date: 09/11/2003





Residency: DOMESTIC

State: DE



Address: 2979 BARLEY MILL ROAD

City:     YORKLYN    


State: DE    

Postal Code: 19736

Phone: (302)235-5800

The web page archive for September 24, 2003, shows the following information above Free Speech Foundation’s Paypal donation button:

This site is maintained by Free Speech Foundation. It is a nonprofit organization under Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code. It relies on the private financial support of individuals, the general public, foundations, and corporations for its income. Because The Free Speech Foundation is an educational organization, contributions made to it are tax deductible.

Let’s Take a Refreshing Break …

… and review the IRS rules about 501(c ) (3) organizations:

To be tax-exempt as an organization described in IRC Section 501(c)(3) of the Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for one or more of the purposes set forth in IRC Section 501(c)(3) and none of the earnings of the organization may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate at all in campaign activity for or against political candidates.

And then there’s this:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise tax.

Oh, yeah. There’s also the fact that Delaware-incorporated Free Speech Foundation, while using a Washington, D.C., mailing address, is not registered to do business in the district, which is … um … illegal.

…And Now, Back to “Gannon”

Q: So how closely was Mr. Guckert really associated with Free Speech Foundation? I mean, the guy seems like kind of a blowhard. Couldn’t he have been pumping up his résumé with the group, kind of like he did with “journalist?” Could he have been simply a webmaster?

Well … no. According to the Senate Press Gallery, Guckert made no bones about being the executive director of FSF, and we assume he really wanted the congressional press pass (the White House won’t issue a hard pass without one). Logic would dictate that he would have downplayed his role in the group if it were legally possible. Guckert’s directorship of FSF was one of the reasons – along with his GOPUSA/Talon News/Millions of Americans association – that led the gallery to reject his application for credentials.

Q: Okay. But surely Mr. “Gannon,” in his journalistic capacity, disclosed the fact that the organization he headed was fundraising on behalf of ProBush.com when he covered the issue in a “news” story, didn’t he?

Alas, apparently the extensive two-day Leadership Institute “journalism” course Mr. Guckert took did not delve into the finer points of revealing conflicts of interest when reporting on an issue close to one’s wallet. One day after the motion for dismissal was filed by the ProBush.com defense team (more on these attorneys later), “Gannon” managed to file a 940-word “story” without ever once mentioning that the organization he “directs” was opening a Paypal account to defend Marino in the lawsuit that very same day.

[Note to readers who may become needlessly confused if the link goes missing: First, GOPUSA scrubbed Gannon’s stories. Then Talon “News” shut down for “renovation.” Today’s link is to Men’s News Daily, which claims to have archived all of “Gannon’s” stories, but God only knows what tomorrow may bring.]

Q: Well, all right. Whatever. How closely was Guckert really associated with ProBush.com anyway?

Thanks for asking., Check out this exchange between Michael Marino and Kevin Tracy, who runs a website eerily similar to ProBush.com in terms of devout GOP partisanship, demonization of liberals and general level of illiteracy:

straightshot2012 2:25:26: Kevin?

Holy Artist 2:25:51:yes?

straightshot2012 2:26:02: This is Mike Marino how are you?

straightshot2012 2:26:08: im with probush.com …

[Mindless young conservative geek guffawing between the two for numerous exchanges.]

Holy Artist 2:33:01:haha awesome

straightshot2012 2:33:20: yeah my public relations guy works in the white house


[Note to Kevin: Don’t bother scrubbing your site or disabling the internet archive with robot.txt as your friend, Mr. Marino, has done with ProBush.com in the past few weeks. We saved it. All of it. Party on, dude!]

Q: WTF????

Our sentiments exactly. Unless 21-year-old computer geek Mike Marino from Nowheresville, Pennsylvania, happens to have another “public relations guy” in the White House, we can make a pretty good guess as to whom he’s referring in this bit of banter.

About that Defense Team …

Interestingly, one member of the ProBush.com defense team – attorney Jon K. Lauck – made waves in blogging circles when it was revealed after the November 2004 election that he’d been paid $27,000 by the Thune campaign in South Dakota to write non-stop, blistering condemnations of Democratic incumbent Senate Minority Leader Daschle. Lauck had neglected to tell readers he was paid for his insights by one campaign while he was strafing the other (perhaps he took the same Leadership Institute course as Guckert that forgot to discuss revealing conflicts of interest?); perhaps $27,000 is such a drop in Mr. Lauck’s bucket that it didn’t create a ripple in his fiscal/ethical consciousness.

While this Gannon/Daschle/Lauck connection is very intriguing in its own right – and the subject of a separate ongoing line of inquiry at ePluribus Media – it doesn’t appear to bear directly on the case at hand: Free Speech Foundation’s footing the bill for Mr. Lauck’s and his colleague’s services. What does pertain to the Marino case is the fact that in the contents of one of Mr. Lauck’s blogging posts in January 2004, he links to an article by “Gannon” about the South Dakota race and then disingenuously leaves the impression that he’s never encountered Talon News – and by logical extension, “Jeff Gannon” – before:

There’s a story by Talon News today about the Bob Novak dust-up which reviews some of the claims related to voter fraud in the 2002 election (via South Dakota Politics) …. Talon News looks like an all-web news service which offers news from the perspective of the right. It includes extensive commentary about the South Dakota race, which is quite interesting…

Obviously, Mr. Lauck is not lying here in any strict legal sense, but like so many tactics employed by modern conservative operatives, these continual minor sins of omission add up over time to paint a benign montage of  “aw shucks” citizen involvement over a very coordinated, focused, professional agenda. These methods constitute a vague and smarmy way of staining the national discourse, and their repeated use is inimical to the health of a democracy.

Mr. Lauck and his law firm presumably had been paid by Mr. “Gannon’s” foundation since the fall of 2003. To pretend no knowledge of Talon or the author of the Talon piece when citing it on his blog months later is misleading … unless the law firm wants to claim it provided a 26-page brief in July and a second eight-page brief in September pro bono. In that case, we would be interested in learning where the donations received by Free Speech Foundation went.

Note: We thought we were so smart in making this observation until we learned that Greg Beato, on his blog, [Soundbitten, beat us to it by weeks.]

Time Line Fans, Unite!

July 2002: ProBush.com created by Michael Marino.

November 13, 2002: Traitor List posted to ProBush.com.

April 9, 2003: Sen. Abourezk discovers his name on Traitor List on ProBush.com

April 2003-May 2003: Abourezk’s attorney threatens GoDaddy with legal action if anonymous ProBush.com owner not revealed; registrant revealed as Michael Marino; GoDaddy cancels account.

May 7, 2003: Free Speech Foundation registers its domain name.

May 8, 2003: “Demand letter” for apology and retraction sent by Todd D. Epp on behalf of Abourezk.

May 27, 2003: Abourezk v ProBush.com and Michael Marino filed. Plaintiff asks for jury trial and $5 million in damages ($2 million actual, $3 million punitive).

June 9, 2003: Web archive shot of ProBush.com on this date shows a new disclaimer: “Parody. Not to be taken seriously. These `traitors’ are not legal `traitors’ of the United States.”

July 30, 2003: Jon Lauck’s law firm of Johnson, Heidepriem, Miner, Marlow & Janklow files motion to dismiss case.

July 31: 2003: Free Speech Foundation sets up Paypal account. “Jeff Gannon” authors Talon News article about lawsuit, forgetting to mention his organization is opening PayPal account the very same day to raise legal defense fund money for ProBush.com.

August 8, 2003: Internet archive crawl of ProBush.com shows Paypal button and Free Speech Foundation mailing address information on front page of website, with FSF claiming 501(c ) (3) tax-deductible, nonprofit status.

August 20, 2003: Plaintiff’s response to defendant’s motion to dismiss filed.

September 8, 2003: Lauck’s law firm files brief in support of its motion to dismiss.

September 11, 2003: Free Speech Foundation incorporates in the state of Delaware.

Jan. 13, 2004: Lauck cites “Jeff Gannon” Talon News story on his blog, leaving the impression he doesn’t know Gannon or Talon News from a hole in the ground.

May 2004: Michael Marino tells fellow webbie Kevin Tracy that his “public relations guy” is in the White House.

For Your Viewing Pleasure, Distancing in Visual Form

Watch the disappearing of “Jeff Gannon” from ProBush.com from before your very eyes! (“Before” screenshots were snatched from the December 31, 2004, Google cache; “After” shots from March 19, 2005. Plame & Propagannon diaries on website Daily Kos – and scrutiny of ProBush.com – began January 28, 2005. Just sayin’.)

Pay attention to #4:

Note the photo credit:

Now wasn’t that fun?

Preemptive Disclaimers/Warnings

(A) Our examination of the Abourezk vs. ProBush.com lawsuit does not mean we hate free speech. We love free speech. It’s one of our favorite things on earth. The arguments and merits of the case are not what we are concerned with on any level here; we are looking at the funding arrangements behind the defense of the case. When the right-wing begins to cry and whine that we are trying to shut down free speech, ignore them. They will be trying to change the subject. Don’t let them.

(B) We are not claiming Jon Lauck broke any laws, either by not disclosing his relationship with the Thune campaign or by not disclosing his fiscal relationship with “Gannon’s” Free Speech Foundation when citing his “article.” Lauck’s a lawyer and we assume he knows his legal stuff. We just don’t think he knows his ethical stuff, and ethically, his behavior stinks.

Tangential Observation/Musing Question

What’s with this pattern of loudmouth, swaggering right-wing webmeisters who name-call, ridicule and threaten liberals from the safe harbor of the internet and then turn into crybaby victims at the first challenge to them in the real world?

First, we had “Gannon” saying he loved the attention (“I’m a rock star!” he proclaimed. “I’m hiding in plain sight!” he taunted) until the unsavory bits of his publicly advertised private life came to light, whereupon he made the talk radio circuit, hanky in hand, getting all choked up about the meany old liberals looking into his background.

With Marino, we have a similar case. He hurls accusations of treasonous behavior around about people much more accomplished than he; he jokes with buddy Kevin about forest fires burning up liberal “tree huggers”; he boasts that he’s getting a lot of press coverage about the lawsuit … and then what? We find him whimpering to Roll Call: “But to throw this lawsuit in my face – it’s just kind of intimidating. I mean, when you were 21 did anyone have a lawsuit against you?” (Sniff, sniff.) And then later in the article, a little coda of a whine: “That kind of scared me a little bit – being 21 and all.”

Poor baby. Poor, poor baby.

A short piece of parting advice to these two right-wing heroes: Heat, kitchen, get out of, etc. You know the drill.

Researchers/Contributors: sean mykael, silence, azindy, michelina, mlk, eafredel, myrkury, dallas doc, Frederick Clarkson, radically bitter, MarkC, Pounder, baltimoretim, mad ramblings of a sane woman, lilnubber, mote dai, sawcielackey, bekah, notamandate, 2lucky, INMINYMA, georgia10, furryjester, bronxdem, mkt, intranets, kagro x, tex, LynnS, wanderindiana, luaptifer, thorswitch, kfred, chewy, indyjoes48, Jill Lehnert, oui, susie dow, oldblueneck, hethereitseric, marie, standingup.

Special shout-outs: Meteor Blades, Delaware Dem, bronxdem, doorguy and NYBri for review, editing and feedback.

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