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Republican Sen. Ted Cruz will visit Hollywood’s not-so-secret group of conservatives called Friends of Abe next month, and he tells The Hollywood Reporter he will address what he considers is a government effort to intimidate artists who criticize President Barack Obama and his policies.
FOA, a group of about 2,000 entertainment industry workers, likes to remain under the radar. But The New York Times on Jan. 22 revealed the group’s two-year-long effort to be recognized as a tax-free charity organization. One thing the IRS has wanted from FOA is its membership list, and Cruz says the group has been right to refuse such a request, which he says stems from “an abuse of power.”
“FOA should respond to the IRS as it would to any McCarthyite request for information,” Cruz says in an interview. “The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that Americans have freedom of association and that groups should not be forced to reveal the names of members, because that information could be abused for political gain. There has already been an incident where the IRS leaked that kind of information about a group.”
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Cruz says the IRS’ treatment of FOA is part of a pattern that includes the arrests of Dinesh D’Souza, who made 2016: Obama’s America, and Nakoula Nakoula, whose video, Innocence of Muslims, was blamed for causing the riots in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead. After the Benghazi attack, Nakoula spent several months in prison on charges unrelated to the video. And D’Souza, who is expected to release his next film, America, on July 4, is accused of violating campaign finance laws by raising more money than he should have for a friend who sought a U.S. Senate seat in New York.
“It’s a remarkably selective prosecution considering Obama raised millions of dollars under similar circumstances and donors merely faced civil fines while D’Souza is charged with felony violation of federal law,” says Cruz. “There is a pattern of targeting filmmakers who speak out politically.
“Authorities have been remarkably selective in prosecuting D’Souza; the IRS’ treatment of FOA is consistent with what this administration has done to Tea Party and conservative groups; and with Benghazi, which we now know was a terrorist attack, the administration’s first instinct was to blame a filmmaker. This administration locked him up. That should be very troubling to the filmmaking community.”
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Cruz adds: “Imagine if George W. Bush had locked up Michael Moore, Sean Penn and Alec Baldwin. Hollywood would be outraged and rightly so. It’s striking that when Nixon targeted his enemies it was rightly criticized as abuse of power, but when President Obama does it with far more success, the silence from Democrats, the media and from filmmakers is deafening.”
FOA began as a loosely structured fellowship nine years ago when actors Gary Sinise and Kelsey Grammer and producer-writer Lionel Chetwynd would meet for private discussions about current events, popular culture and politics. The group quickly widened to include outspoken conservatives like the late Andrew Breitbart and actor Jon Voight, and eventually rank-and-file entertainment industry workers, many of whom feared retribution if word got out that they didn’t share the liberal-leaning ideals prominent in the Hollywood community.
As FOA grew too large to be kept secret, media outlets like Fox News, the Washington Times and E! Entertainment began to pry into the organization, but members have been particularly on edge since it was revealed that the IRS also is interested in learning the names of those involved. FOA executive director Jeremy Boreing, though, says that while FOA itself is not a “secret society,” its membership ranks will remain hidden from government officials and others who are seeking access to those details.
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While Boreing says he does not think “there is any dark, industry-wide conspiracy to keep conservatives from working,” there have been instances of bias alleged. Grammer, for example, told THR in 2008 that when he was on the TV show Cheers he was told his job would be jeopardized if he didn’t donate $10,000 to Democrats, including then-Rep. Barbara Boxer of California. In his book Primetime Propaganda, radio talk show host Ben Shapiro quotes producer Vin Di Bona, famous for TV shows like MacGyver and America’s Funniest Home Videos, saying the notion of widespread anti-conservative bias in Hollywood is “probably accurate and I’m happy about it, actually.”
More recently, Scott Eckern resigned as artistic director of the California Musical Theater after he was criticized for donating $1,000 in support of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. “I am disappointed that my personal convictions have cost me the opportunity to do what I love the most,” Eckern said after resigning the position he had held for five years.
And this year, Maria Conchita Alonso quit a Spanish-language production of The Vagina Monologues because of backlash over her support of Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Tea Party favorite running for the Republican nomination for governor of California.
“It used to be Democrats could talk to Republicans without getting mad and screaming. We need to bring that back in America,” she told THR. “That you have to create something like FOA so people can feel free to talk, there’s something wrong with that, isn’t there?”
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At issue with the IRS is whether FOA is engaging in overly partisan activities, which could preclude it from gaining status as a 501(c)(3) organization.
“FOA provided the IRS with access to the areas of our website necessary for them to establish with clarity what kind of organization we are,” Boreing tells THR. “But we didn’t provide them with access to the areas of our website that contain our membership information, which they were asking for at one point. Look, there’s a well-established tradition of not naming names in Hollywood. No individual or government agency has the right to expose people’s privately held beliefs.”
When Cruz visits the group next month, he’ll join a long list of well-known conservatives who have addressed FOA, like Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Ann Coulter, Rep. Paul Ryan and talk show host Mark Levin. The group, though, does not endorse candidates, and at one event a speaker, in fact, made the case that its members didn’t even share political affiliation as much as a desire to see America prosper. Sinise, the Oscar-winning actor from Forrest Gump and CSI: NY who is often cited as the group’s founder, rarely speaks about politics when addressing FOA and prefers instead to stick to his passionate support for U.S. military personnel, according to insiders.
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Since The New York Times story, several journalists and bloggers have noted FOA’s similarity to the many liberal groups in Hollywood, notably People for the American Way, which was founded by TV producer Norman Lear and is dedicated a 501(c)(4), allowing it to participate in political campaigns.
“In reality, we don’t even have the activist agendas that those groups have,” Boreing says. “FOA is not a political organization, and we have no agenda other than to provide education and fellowship opportunities to conservative-leaning entertainment industry professionals. We don’t raise money for candidates. We don’t even pay speakers’ fees. We’re just a watering hole for conservatives in a town not especially known for its embrace of conservative views … we aren’t looking for publicity, and we aren’t naming names.”
He added: “FOA isn’t looking for any fights — not with our liberal friends in the industry, not with the government and certainly not with the IRS.”
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