By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh raised $2.1 million for children of fallen Marines and law enforcement officers on Friday by auctioning off a letter from Senate Democrats denouncing him for a remark about "phony soldiers."
Philanthropist Betty Casey purchased the letter on eBay, which said it was the most expensive item ever sold for charity on the online marketplace.
The letter, signed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and 40 fellow Senate Democrats, expressed outrage over what they described as Limbaugh's "characterization of troops who oppose the (Iraq) war as 'phony soldiers'."
Limbaugh denounced the note as a "smear letter," saying the remark he made on his radio show referred to soldiers who falsified their military service.
Regardless, Reid, speaking in the Senate, saluted Limbaugh for raising the money on behalf of The Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, which helps children of Marines and law officers killed in the line of duty.
"What could be a more worthwhile cause?" said Reid, urging support for the fund-raising drive shortly before bidding closed.
"I strongly believe when we can put our differences aside, even Harry Reid and Rush Limbaugh, we should do that and try to accomplish good things for the American people," Reid said.
Limbaugh, in his posting on eBay, did not appear conciliatory with Reid, who is referred to as "Dingy Harry." On his radio show shortly after bidding closed, he identified Casey as the winner.
Casey is with the Eugene B. Casey Foundation, which said in a statement it bought the "smear letter" to demonstrate its belief in free speech and support of Limbaugh.
Limbaugh said he was matching Casey's bid by contributing another $2.1 million to the foundation, and urged Reid and other Democrats who signed the letter to do the same.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley declined comment on Limbaugh's challenge, but said: "Senator Reid is happy something good came from Rush's outrageous comments."
(Additional reporting by Donna Smith)