JULY 24, 2005
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, said today that it has obtained U.S. Navy contract documents, under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) (5 U.S.C. ‘ 522), detailing U.S. government payments of $1,699,830.00 to a public relations firm known as The Rendon Group for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a public referendum held on the island Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a U.S. Territory.
The July 29, 2001 referendum concerned the proposed closure of the “Inner Range of the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility at Vieques,” also known as the Vieques Bombing Range. The U.S. Navy sought to continue using the range for live-fire combat training before deployment overseas.
The Navy contract tasks for The Rendon Group included: “. . . organize local leaders to build grassroots communications support . . . ensure the integrity of the voting process . . . develop methods and tracking procedures to increase support among citizens.” Federal law restricts the political activities of government agencies and employees. Also, the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. ‘ 1461), forbids the domestic dissemination of U.S. government authored or developed propaganda or “official news” deliberately designed to influence public opinion or policy.
Opponents of the Navy garnered 68 percent of the vote, which drew 80.6 percent of the island’s 5,893 registered voters. The Navy spent approximately $358 per referendum voter in their failed bid to continue using the range. In February 2003 the Navy ceased operations at the Vieques range and moved operations to Florida and elsewhere in the United States.
The Rendon Group is a self-described “global strategic communications consultancy” that has been paid over $40 million by the U.S. Defense Department since 9/11. Media reports have also tied The Rendon Group to a Pentagon funded Internet site called “Empower Peace,” targeting American school age children, teachers and schools in what purports to be a “grassroots” peace movement.
Judicial Watch was forced to file a FOIA lawsuit against the Defense Department on February 25, 2005, following 11 months of stonewalling by the government over a lawful open records request concerning The Rendon Group’s involvement in U.S. government funded “information operations” and “perception management” activities.
“I think most Americans would be shocked to learn that the military had a program to ‘ensure the integrity’ of our voting process,” said JW President Tom Fitton. “Judicial Watch hopes the appropriate authorities will investigate this disturbing new information.”
Articles related to this release can be found here.