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November 06, 2004

What is the "Foundation for a Better Life"?

Who are these people and what do they want?

The first I heard of them was last night at the movies. The Foundation bought up half the pre-movie ad time to show uplifting TV spots about "Including Others" and "Helping Others."

The FFBL describes itself as follows:

The Foundation for a Better Life is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization started in 2000. The programs and projects of the Foundation are non-commercial and are solely humanitarian endeavors; the Foundation does not seek nor accept contributions or donations of any kind and is privately funded. The Foundation supports the belief that each individual is entitled to personal dignity and self-respect and that most individuals are willing, when given the opportunity, to take personal responsibility for their actions and well-being. The Foundation also believes that capable people may also benefit from encouragement and reminders from time to time. Generally people who have the opportunity and the ability will make appropriate common sense decisions which will have a positive and uplifting effect on themselves, their community, and their country.

The Foundation claims to be non-religious and non-political. Perhaps I need more moral uplift to combat the cynicism rampant in this day and age, but I suspect there's a catch. The FFLB spots remind me of those free Book of Mormon TV ads from the 1980s.

If anyone knows who's behind this outfit, please leave a comment. If anyone has already written on the subject, please send a link and I'll post it. I'm very curious.

Update: Thanks to readers Wayne and Paperwight of Fairshot.

Paperwight writes:

It's a guy named Phil Anschutz, a conservative Denver oil, internet and media guy. See here. Cursory Google searching and internic domain name registration checks seem to confirm.

See also

Wayne unearthed another hint of a Mormon connection: Gary Dixon is the President of the FFBL and an Honored Brigham Young University alumnus.

Here are some excerpts from the San Diego Indymedia item described in the Portland Alliance article cited by Paperwight (above) Colorado billionaire supporting nationwide propaganda campaign:

Philip Anschutz, who the BBC described as having "a reputation as one of the hungriest of US corporate vultures", is currently using his wealth and power to support a slick ad campaign appearing on 10,000 billboards, in hundreds of movie theaters, and on nearly a thousand TV stations across the country. The Foundation for a Better Life (FBL)—the non-profit entity that officially produces and distributes the ads—has no contact information on its website,, but a series of posts and comments to the portland indymedia open publishing newswire uncovered the connection between Anschutz and FBL.[...]

[Anschutz'] corporate empire includes a majority holding in Qwest Communications and ownership of several sports teams and arenas. Significantly, he also owns the United Artists, Regal and Edwards movie theater chains, where the FBL commercials are being shown. Whether or not FBL is paying for these slots is unknown. According to Outdoor Advertising Association of America, $10,000,000 worth of the cost of the billboard campaign is being donated by OAAA member companies. In other words, it is possible that this advertising blitz is costing FBL and Philip Anschutz very little money out-of-pocket. [...]


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So, Lambert of Corrente tells us that there's a new right-wingnut rag a-coming to DC, financed by right-wingnut billionaire Phil Anschutz, who apparently also likes Focus on the Family and hates fags. Nice. That name sounded familiar, and after some th... [Read More]

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one day when i was much younger i remember driving around the city with my uncle. we passed a person standing on the side of the road holding a sign and asking for change. my uncle started complaining about how "you shouldn't give bums money because they're just going to squander it on drugs or boos." even though i was young, i was appalled by his reaction to this man. i kept thinking that it was none of his business what the man decided to do with the money, the point was, if you're in the postion to help others you should do so. when i read the comments posted on this site, i was literally shocked and immediatly my mind was drawn back to that day i spent with my uncle. the point of the program is to reinforce everyday values that many of us seem to forget from time to time. sadly, their might be somebody profiting from what looks like a good act. but what does it matter to any of us? does that mean that we no longer should live our lives in unity, with compassion, through forgivness? take the message you are given and stop trying to decipher hidden intentions. it'll do you a lot of good

The reason the ads have a Mormon feel is because the same guy who directed the Mormon commercials in the 80s was hired to do the FBL spots. Not because he was mormon but because they liked his cinematography wanted the same feel. His style of filmmaking is the only connection to the two parties. You intolerant conspiracy theorists need to relax and not be so paranoid. In the very act of being suspicious and intolerant of Mormons you are guilty of the same things you hate them for. You're still mad that Bush won a second term and can't let go. Bush won because there are just enough good people left to barely be a majority. I dont look forward to the day when you guys are the majority.

OK I apologize for the second term comment - really.
A little about more about the Mormon thing, though. Mormons support traditional families, they are against homosexuality because they honestly believe it is a sin, they believe the body is a sacred instrument for creating life and should not be flaunted, and they happen to believe the The Book of Mormon is a true book of scripture. My question to you all is, shouldn't you be respectful of their beliefs whether you agree with them or not? Most people that hate Mormons hate them because they are "intolerant" of alternate lifestyles and more "liberal" ideas. Well, duh! their beliefs are contrary - you cant expect them to just embrace ideas that Mormons sincerely believe are sins.

Like many others, I came across this by looking for information about the FBL. On the one hand, I'm happy to say I've learned quite a bit. on the other hand, I'm saddened to see what seems like a "we don't understand it, causing us fear, therefore we must tear it down or undermine it" attitude.

I'm not a Republican, I'm not Christian or Mormon or belonging to any other major religion. In fact, I generally dislike the attitudes developed by people in large groups, and the actions they endorse. Yes, I'm a cynic. Having stated my qualifications, no, I'm not a "right-wingnut"

The FBL's commercials may be funded by someone:

Trying to buy his way into heaven
Trying to influence people to focus on themselves
Supporting the Mormon religion by sharing some of their values
Trying to make himself feel better by buying ad-time
Trying to perpetrate a global conspiracy for which this is the first phase of a monstrous plot to take over the world.

Now, aside from that last one, it'd be hard to argue against any of these. They're all possible. But do any of these practical points really give a valid reason to shun the commercials the FBL is running?

Is the Mormon religion such an insidious thing that you must avoid contact with Mormons, and anything which they might spread, for fear that your own mind will be too weak to battle off the infection?

Is taking personal responsibility in direct conflict with expecting responsibility from others, or vice versa, and leads one to see a single overwhelming cause to a problem?

If people believe that they can improve the world first-hand, is that going to neuter any threat they pose to corporate, political or religious interests?

I do understand the concerns some have presented here, especially on those last two. It's a valid point.. it could have an impact. But honestly, the people who it will have an impact upon, do you believe they will be worse for it? The only way I can see this actually having a measurable impact is _if_ you believed that a group of workers who were laid off, forced to work for lower wages, etc. say "you know what, this is my personal responsibility, and I wont sign this petition / go on strike / etc. because of that, it's not my employer's responsibility for making that decision that's hurting my ability to put food on the table."

I applaud thinking, and showing concern from multiple aspects, and wanting to know the whole story... but I learned long ago that we are truly personally responsible for our views, beliefs and actions, and that by being exposed to bad things or bad messages, it gives us an opportunity to learn more, better define our beliefs, and become stronger. If every "message" in life was something you agreed with, no dissenting or alternate views or opinions, no matter how subtle, life would be trivial at best.

The creators of South Park did an excellent episode on the Mormon religion, in which they illustrated their view on it... even if we believe the Mormons are full of it, backwards, etc., if they're happy and better people for it, should we despise them for how they got there?

What is wrong with believing things are a sin? Let me tell you what I've found to be wrong: "No person having the least particle of Negro blood can hold the Priesthood" (Brigham Young). Mormons had a huge problem, however, when they went down to South America to recruit because South Americans, for the most part, can trace "one hundred and sixth" or more "Negro blood". So magically, the Mormons (a specific leader had a vision, apparently) were told in 1978 that black people were forgiven.

I have Mormon friends. I respect their views, and I think that they are decent people. Otherwise, why would they be my friends? At the same time, the Church of Latter Day Saints did not admit its fault. It just plowed ahead to fit its recruitment needs. Has my own religion made mistakes? Yes and yes. Have we apologized and asked forgiveness for those mistakes? Yes.

I don't think anyone should be justified in hating someone for their religion. But can someone wish another person would change because they find their beliefs upsetting or hurtful?

Isn't that what the right wing has such a problem with the Middle East? I mean, they're not all democratic countries, even! *GASP*

We all think we're right. Or we wouldn't think that way. I think an elderly man should have gotten the cab instead of the young mom and daughter. He's more likely to get sick!

But as pointed out previously, the Robber Barrons did this before, and it will happen again: rich people want to buy their way into Heaven. They could be doing worse things with their money, even if they could be doing better things with their money, as well.

I honestly can't comprehend how you can have any problems with these commercials. Be nice to people, sacrifice, be compassionate? Christ al-fucking-mighty you are cynical.

Irrespective of the videos being from Jews, Mormons, Falun Dafa, or atheists. If it's just saying "be nice to people, don't be an ass," why do people get so worked up?

I agree with Alektra.

In any case, having values does not mean you hate gays (or are not gay). Being patriotic doesn't mean you want to go to war. And pushing for accountability is not to say let the poor people rot.

It's been a very long time since I went to a commercial movie theater. Thankfully, I usually watch movies at a little theater in my town that isn't owned by a corporation. This time was different because my kid wanted to see Chicken Little. When I saw the FFBL ad I felt very suspicious, partly because I'd just been to a talk given on the subject of separation of church and state which is really concerning a lot of us right now. The talk was presented by the regional directors of the ACLU and the AU (Americans United for the separation of church and state). What I learned at this talk floored me. They introduced us to the practice of Dominionism, which rather than trying to explain, I'll post a link to a site that does it much better:

Followers of Dominionsim have been working covertly for a long time to bring their thought system to the fore in our country. On the surface, having values and morals is a very good thing. What they are working for is the end of tolerance and diversity of religious thought in this country. Dominionism translates into the end of all religious practice and belief outside of a form of Conservative Christianity. Reading that Phil Anschutz is also a member of Focus on the Family tells me that he is someone working towards that goal. There are many many Christians in this country, and I - not being a Christian - believe their values and traditions should be respected and protected and that they should be allowed to freely express those beliefs. I also believe that those of us who follow another religion, or who are secular in our beliefs also should be respected and protected. What I reject and will fight against is any effort to take away those religious freedoms - even if the packaging is as seemingly innocent as these ads. It's subversive and frightening particularly because it comes across as so benign.

Hi, I'm a liberal democrat and I'm a mormon and I'm not ashamed of either.

I agree that our society has social and systemic problems that grind on the poor.

On the other hand, these commercials, for the most part, are supporting individual acts of kindness. Small acts of kindness and generosity matter, and to discount them because Anschutz might be an oppressive, intolerant homophobe doesn't make sense.

For a good read and example of individual acts of generosity making an enormous difference, read Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains," a great depiction of Paul Farmer's work in Haiti. It sounds dull, but trust me it isn't.

Here's an excerpt of a WaPo piece on Anschutz. He's funding movies too.

I have to weigh in with the people supporting FFBL. One might argue that the money would be better spent feeding the hungry, curing cancer, etc., but consider this: billboard companies and broadcasters all have a certain amount of "down time." That's the time that the billboard isn't rented, or the time reserved for ads aren't sold.

These media companies are happy to provide this ad time and billboard space to charities, and foundations like FFBL can make a big impact for a minimal amount of investment by producing high quality ads. FFBL might also buy ad time, but I suspect that most of the time is donated. It's hard to quarrel with an attempt to counter Madison Avenue's message of rampant consumerism with similar tactics, using the same media.

I am grateful for one of the advertisements I recently saw where high school students are gossiping about a shunned student and one of the girls listening to the gossipy girls stands up and walks over to the outcast; what a way to sweeten bitter souls.

I have believed for quite some time that the first step in curing the world of all its illness is to cure the individual.

I want to want to work/volunteer for you in whatever capacity you deem fit.

Thank you,
Majy Gibboney
Proud Teacher
Hollywood High School

Fascinating thread. I like many others found this page after seeing the commercials on TV and googling up the source. Since the messages seemed to be morally sound but God-free, I assumed it was George Soros or the like looking for a way to use their tons of money to try to co-opt the Christian Message without accepting the Christ. I suspected the motives. What surprised me was that so many from the left would take such exception to the message. Accepting personal responsibility is a bad thing how? Being nice to other people, reaching out to the lonely or isolated is a dangerous practice, to be discouraged at all costs?

Here's the funny part - As a conservative, patriotic, optimistic Christian, I am used to having to ignore the liberal agenda in much that today's media and entertainment offers to pull out fragments of a positive message - Apparently many liberals feel obligated to ignore the positive message so they can savor further evidence of the 'vast right wing conspiracy'.

Oops - forgot to mention what made me want to post here in the first place - This thread has been extremely balanced and readable. Alternating points of view, dissagreement w/out too much bile and anger. The tone of many posts above points out that the cynical attitudes of the left I discussed above are not as ubiquitous as I implied. Sorry to have painted w/ such a wide brush. Merry Christmas to all who appreciate such - Have a nice winter to those who don't. ~:^)>

I like the adds I only wish the people who sponsored them would live a life consistent with them.

It sure would be nice if they would pay their employees enough to have a better life.

I agree with the blaming the victim theory.


The one type of response here I miss most is the academic one. Let us view things here a bit rationally for a moment:

The three incidences in the original piece where anything close to Incendiary Language can be perceived are in the first sentance ("who are these people. . ."), the phrase "I suspect there's a catch", and a comment regarding "Another hint of a mormon connection."

In none of these instances are disparaging words used or anything close to an opinion stated devaluing the moral system of a people, culture or ethnicity. The tone of the post appears to be interrogatory and investigative. By definition, suspicion and lack of faith are facets of an interrogatory or investigative tone. They are by no means its primary facets or ultimate goals.

Lastly, the most important ingredient of communication is the symbolic level where meaning is assigned to messages and stimuli. The key to power and influence in communications theory is in changing one's dispositions at the symbolic level. The second most important aspect of human communication is that all transactions are laced with intent. One never communicates for no reason.

If one creates something -- perhaps an ad campaign -- designed toward changing the symbolic level of one's communication structure, they are creating something geared at fundamentally altering the way one acts toward the world. The price of taking this lightly is becoming the omega in the social collective.

From a scientific standpoint, faith is dominance. Questioning is reinforcement and the desire to keep one's mind one's own.

What is with the blaming the victim theory? how are these ads blaming the victim? What is wrong with encouraging people to be GOOD to people regardless of religion background? If this guy was buying his way to heaven he would have his name on all the ads in bold letters. The only agenda I see is trying to encourage people to be good citizens to each other. We all need to be better people and nothing is wrong with that. The notion that these ads are suspicious and are trying to force a religion on us is silly. Just be a good person regardless if you believe in God or not.

I am increasingly sick of these ads, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. The one that recently got to me was one of someone helping a child during Katrina, with, "Oh when the saints go marching in . . ." on it.

My first thought was: A little self-congratulatory, aren't we? And for what, for such a disgraceful national reponse to a major disaster? For leaving that city in such disrepair while billions are pumped into Baghdad? Also, people are people, all with the potential for good and evil. The guy in the ad is also apparently a government worker, a police or rescue person. I guess Brownie wasn't a saint, however, even if he was also a government emergency employee. Or do you need a uniform and low pay?

Since it came from a rich guy, it can't be good. I'm a reeeeeel smart guy, and that's what I think.

The real issue here is the “values” that are being promoted. They are called values because they have withstood the test of human history and therefore have become qualities that are worth something to most people. They are character traits that have proven to make life better and more productive for individuals, families and societies over the course of thousands of years. They are not owned or trademarked by any religious group. It’s about being human.

Where have we gotten when we have practiced selfishness, greed, cowardice, dishonesty, pessimism, weakness, segregation, intolerance or ignorance on any large or long-term scale?

Would we accept the message better if it came from someone who better fit our definition of political correctness at the moment? What if the impetus behind the campaign was a poor, liberal, gay, black woman who was also an atheist? Would we respond any differently?

How dare someone encourage me to be happier and a better contributor to society? Especially if their background is not the same as mine and their belief system does not fit my own myopic view of what is acceptable or fashionable. They must have some underhanded ulterior motive.

It is simply pathetic that people suspect that there’s something terrible about FBL’s motives— Phil Anchutes may not be a perfect guy, but what’s wrong with him wanting to give back by putting positive messages into the media? Don’t we have enough negative, or are we just so cynical that something positive cannot be just taken for what it is? Give me a break. And so the hell what if Dixon is a Mormon? He was hired by Anchutes only because he is great at what he does. Anchutes is a Baptist, and Baptists traditionally have no tremendous love for Mormons. The reason there isn’t contact info on their website (which is very nice by the way) is that they don’t solicit or take donations. Completely separate from Anchutes’ business ventures, the foundation’s purpose is simply positive media. How’s that for evil? I agree with the person who said how different some responses would be if the person behind it was a liberal, gay, black woman. If you’re looking for a real problem to spend your time on, how about world hunger, domestic violence, or child pornography?

I am Canadian and recently found the Foundation for a Better Life website. I was also curious who was anonymously funding the site so I googled and came upon this site. We also saw the same "Mormon" ads here in Canada. What I find interesting as an outsider looking at the site, is that I didn't find it "Pro-war" at all. Pro American yes, but not Pro-war. I saw the ad for "Old Friends" the one about a girl learning about life from her father who had friends that were different from him(pictures of a Jewish man, priest and a man of Islamic faith) while the song Love can build a bridge played in the back ground. Pro-war would be using an "us and them" mentality by declaring the other part of the "axis of evil", not trying to find common ground so I disagree. I took the ad about "No set back will set us back" to be about continuing to live and persevere despite the tragedy that happened on 9/11. I liked the fact that the site was not religous in any sense and did not facilitate any recruitment of any kind. The values and morals that it propigated are the kind that help keep a society civilized. We need not look at the world with rose colored glasses because we are living and seeing the reality on the news. It is nice to be reminded, from time to time, that there is goodness in others and try to do some good in our own lives. That hope keeps us moving forward.

From what I've read, it seems that to some people, no matter what you have to say, it can't be of value because of who you are. I have known people of all races, religions, sexual orientations and political persuasions. As I've grown older, I've tried to see the best in each of them and ask myself, "what can I learn from them?"

The conservatives were once accused - an perhaps rightfully so - of attempting/desiring censorship and limiting free speech. Now I am convinced that the pendulum has swung to the liberals. So many of you just strike me as intolerant and unwilling to allow anyone else their point of view.

Just as you value your beliefs, so do others. Trying to change others' beliefs by force, intimidation, legal action, harrassment, etc. simply won't work. The more you try to change me, the more I resist.

As Lincoln said, "if you are to win a man to your way of thinking, first convince him you are his genuine friend." The left is failing miserably at this.

I thought the same thing when I first saw the ads, Something felt off. I look up the money man. Rightwing supporter of the Discovery Institute (inventors of ID, the creationism of today), he helped fund an initiative to overturn gay rights in Colorado and supports the Media Research Group who made nearly every indecency complaint to the FCC in 2003. After that I visited the site and come across the "Quotes" page. And every single quote has to do with faith. EVERY ONE. Where are all these other virtues? Nowhere to be found. To then say that you have no religious overtones is simply dishonest. And a good cause to be skeptical of those who would simply tout nice things to boost their shabby image as of recient.

I think I've seen it all now. Reading things like this makes me lose my faith in mankind. And verifies that there will never be peace in the world. How could there be with so much straight up negativity out there. So funny how some people are so suspect of these ads, and find all kinds of ridiculous things to say. Yet, they drink the "Kool Aid" about lack of personal accoutability.

You know I find it utterly absurd to hear people say they don't need to be reminded to be a good person. That is the biggest load of crap I have ever heard. I consider myself very religious. I go to church almost every Sunday, yet there are times in my life, when I do not act as I know I should. Yes, I have to be reminded every once (especially when driving in the car) in a while to try to be a better person, AND SO DOES EVERYONE. YES EVEN YOU. No one is perfect and everyone needs a kick in the butt once and a while to remeber to " Do Unto Others" If you think you don't your kidding yourself, or extremely arrogant. Either way wake up. I could think of at least 100 things better suited to bear peoples contempt. Reading this blog makes me ill.

Quit whining that your tired of seeing the ads. I'm tired of seeing A LOT of stuff on TV. Like gratuitous sex, profanity, adulations of "Alternative Lifestyles" ect, but I don't whine about it. I just change the channel. Isn't that what the whole "free speech" thing is about. Last but not least, I think that if you are offended or bothered by thses commercials, THERE IS SOMETHING SERIOUSLY WRONG WITH, AND YOU NEED TO GET SOME THERAPY NOW!

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