Wednesday September 27, 2023

Who Is Funding The Attack Ads Against LIV Golf?

  • A new group, 9/11 Justice, has spent more than $230,000 running anti-LIV commercials this summer.
  • The effort mirrors dark money political campaigns as contributions to the group are anonymous.
9/11 Justice
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Dennis McGinley held up a photo of his brother, Danny, who was among the nearly 3,000 killed during the 9/11 terror attacks. 

“You’re taking money from an evil regime,” Dennis McGinley said as images of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau flashed in the background.   

The emotionally raw ad was part of a campaign launched against LIV Golf over its ties to Saudi Arabia. Many of the people affiliated with group behind the ad, 9/11 Justice, are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against Saudi Arabia that alleges the government “knowingly” provided support for the attacks. 

Nearly 21 years after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon carried out by 15 Saudi citizens and four others, the emotional impact of 9/11 hasn’t faded. Members of 9/11 Justice have gotten their message out in interviews on ABC News, CBS News, CNN, and many other outlets. 

Between the commercials and the news coverage, 9/11 Justice has reached an estimated 9 million television viewers. 

The astonishing part: 9/11 Justice didn’t exist until just a few days ahead of the first U.S. LIV Golf event, where the first ads ran in June. And exactly who has paid more than $230,000 on anti-LIV Golf commercials remains a mystery.

A Front Office Sports investigation shows the secrecy behind the group is by design, utilizing tactics reminiscent of “dark money” political campaigns. 

While not revealing the donors to 9/11 Justice, president and co-founder Brett Eagleson did offer some clues in an interview with FOS. 

“The money is coming from deep-pocketed individuals and entities that share in our pursuit of justice and they want us to succeed,” said Eagleson, who lost his father in the terror attacks. “We need to protect our donors because we are up against some really nasty people, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They would do anything to discredit our donors.”

Eagleson added that even though the group is new, he’s among the many people associated with it that have been critics of Saudi Arabia and its business ventures in the U.S. for years.

The group was founded days before LIV Golf’s U.S. debut in Portland and is run as a social welfare group under Section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code. That means while it has non-profit status, it’s not required to disclose donors. Most public interest organizations and charities exist under 501(c)(3) in the tax code, which requires them to list the source of top donors. 

The loophole that skirts both IRS and Federal Election Commission disclosures has been utilized for years in dark money campaigns to run ads without knowing who funded them. The first notable example can be traced back to the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which spent millions in a campaign against Democratic candidate John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election.

As such, there’s no definitive way to tell who exactly is funding 9/11 Justice. But FOS, through interviews and research, has been able to identify some details of the group. 

  • 9/11 Justice was incorporated in Delaware on June 27, 2022 according to public records. 
  • The website’s domain was registered on June 22 and launched the same day.
  • Media Ad Ventures, a Virginia-based ad buying company with ties to the GOP, placed the ads in Portland, according to FCC filings.
  • An open letter titled “An Open Letter to PGA Tour Members” was on the page at launch per The Internet Archive. The letter was signed by 1,650 people who either lost loved ones or survived 9/11.
  • That list of names is identical to a letter sent by the law firm Kreindler & Kreindler to President Biden in August 2021 that sought the release of documents related to the FBI’s investigation into Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the terror attacks. 

Kreindler & Kreindler issued the following statement to FOS: 

“We represent thousands of members of the 9/11 community, many of whom for years have been passionate and outspoken advocates, in the pending litigation against Saudi Arabia for its role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While many of our ideologies likely overlap given our shared goal of justice for the 9/11 community and several of our clients are involved in the group, 9/11 Justice is a wholly independent organization unaffiliated with our firm. Neither the firm nor any of our individual partners have funded or helped arrange funding for 9/11 Justice. We do not oversee, advise, or materially support their efforts in any way. As we approach the 21st anniversary of the attacks, Kreindler & Kreindler’s focus remains on prosecuting this case and obtaining justice for 9/11 families.”

The PGA Tour — which is the target of an antitrust lawsuit filed by LIV Golf and some of its golfers — hasn’t had any direct involvement with 9/11 Justice, a source close to the PGA Tour told FOS. 

Beyond the ads buy, 9/11 Justice also paid the travels costs for several people who lost loved ones or survived the terror attacks to protest outside the LIV events in Portland and Bedminster, New Jersey. 

In red hats that read “9/11 Justice,” they talked to several media members to draw attention to the Saudi-backed tour. Some held pictures of loved ones that were killed. 

The group won’t have a formal protest for this weekend’s event outside Boston, although their commercials will run on the Golf Channel, ESPN, NESN, and Fox News Channel. The ads run Thursday through Sunday in the local markets where LIV is playing.

Per data reviewed by FOS earlier this week, 9/11 Justice will spend at least $40,000 to run the ads in Boston.

Eagleson said the plan is to keep a similar effort going for LIV Golf events in Chicago and Miami to close out the season and, likely, in 2023. 

“When people talk about LIV, they aren’t talking about golf,” he said. “What they are talking about is 9/11. They’re talking about [slain Washington Post journalist Jamal] Khashoggi. They are talking about all the other bad things the Saudis are involved in. It’s been a good opportunity for us to insert ourselves into the dialogue.”

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