WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. A letter from Democratic senators blasting conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh for using the phrase "phony soldiers" on his program was sold Friday on eBay for a record $2.1 million.
A private foundation made the winning bid, which eBay spokeswoman Catherine England said set a record for the most expensive item sold for charity by the online auctioneer.
Limbaugh's comment during his radio show last month drew broad criticism from Democrats, who said he was smearing soldiers opposed to the Iraq war. Limbaugh and other conservatives responded with outrage of their own, saying Democrats were mischaracterizing comments aimed at one particular former soldier who lied about his service.
The Oct. 2 letter to Clear Channel Communications Inc. sought an apology from Limbaugh and a public repudiation from the company. It was signed by 41 senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid and presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Chris Dodd.
The letter from the senators called Limbaugh's comments against "troops who oppose the war ... an outrage."
"It is unconscionable that Mr. Limbaugh would criticize them for exercising the fundamentally American right to free speech," the letter read.
Limbaugh said in a Fox News interview Thursday that the letter symbolized "the greatest example" of Congress "singling out a private citizen for abuse and censorship."
On his show Friday, Limbaugh said proceeds from the sale, and a matching $2.1 million from his own pocket, would go to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, which provides scholarships to children of Marines or federal law enforcement personnel who were killed while serving their country.
The winning bid came from the Maryland-based Eugene B. Casey Foundation, according to the group.The foundation, which lists assets of $294 million in its latest IRS filing, was established by Casey, a real estate developer, and is run primarily by his widow, Betty.
The foundation's largest grants during its last fiscal year included $4.9 million to a Bethesda, Md., hospital, $3.5 million to the Washington Opera and $850,000 to the American Arts Network. It also gave $110,000 to the Salvation Army and $100,000 grants to a Washington public television and radio station and Salute America's Heroes, which helps wounded soldiers. There were no reported grants to political organizations.
"The Eugene B. Casey Foundation believes freedom of speech is a basic right of every citizen of this country," the group said in a news release Friday.
In the segment where Limbaugh made the "phony soldiers" comment, he discussed Jesse Macbeth, who was sentenced to five months in prison last month for faking his military service. The Tacoma, Wash., man was kicked out of the Army after six weeks at Fort Benning, Ga., in 2003, but he later claimed to have participated in war crimes in Iraq and tried to position himself as a leader of the anti-war movement.
Limbaugh has said he was referring only to Macbeth when he discussed "phony soldiers."