Profiting off of the 10th anniversary of 9/11

Conservative political groups observe the 10th anniversary of the attacks by selling commemorative merchandise

Published June 21, 2011 4:01PM (EDT)

The 9/11 commemorative pin being sold by Grassfire Nation
The 9/11 commemorative pin being sold by Grassfire Nation


Let the 9/11 anniversary merchandising begin!

As the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks nears, a prominent Tea Party group is promoting a plan to sell commemorative 9/11 pins for $13-a-pop.

The Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama is a political action committee with the same Sacramento-based parent organization as the influential group Tea Party Express. It recently sent out a mass email encouraging supporters to help another conservative group "distribute 1 MILLION 9/11 Commemorative Pins to ensure that Americans never, ever forget those who lost their lives on 9/11 and what this country endured."

According to the pitch from a conservative political firm called Grassfire Nation, "Thousands of patriots are scheduled to receive a 9-11 pin -- far more than we currently have sponsors for. That’s why we are asking patriotic Americans like yourself to step forward and sponsor other patriots to receive their pin!"

To do that, supporters are asked to "sponsor" the distribution of the pins for $10 each (or $250 for 25, $1000 for 100, etc.). Another section of the Grassfire Nation website explains that to get the "free" pin, you have to pay $3 shipping and handling. So the company is apparently getting $13 per enamel 9/11 pin.

And Grassfire Nation is a company -- not a political action committee devoted to promoting conservative causes or candidates. It is a division of an Iowa company, Grassroots Action, which calls itself "the leader in building custom conservative action networks for organizations seeking to expand their impact through the Internet" and in getting "results that reach your bottom line." Grassroots Action lists as current or former clients several big-name conservative organizations including the National Republican Congressional Committee, Media Research Center, and Focus on the Family Action.

The head of Grassfire Nation is Steve Elliott, a Regent University graduate and conservative television commentator. His bio describes him as a "nationally recognized Internet communications specialist and conservative grassroots leader."

The better-known Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama regularly garners national press attention for its political ads and events, including one in March featuring the "three Joes" -- Joe the Plumber, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and failed Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller.

It's not clear if the 9/11 pin sale is designed purely to make money, or also to build lists of potential conservative donors for future fundraising campaigns. Neither Grassroots Action nor the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama responded to request for comment. But look out for a lot more 9/11 anniversary merchandising (and, inevitably, profiteering) in the months to come.

Here's the email that went out from the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama:

UPDATE 6/24/11: Joe Wierzbicki, executive director of Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, emails: "We did the push for Grassfire Nation's 9/11 pins to help our friends at Patriot Action Network and Grassfire Nation who we've worked with before on various causes. We didn't receive any compensation or kickbacks or revenue sharing for the email -- just did it to be supportive."

By Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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