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Thursday, May 2, 2002 GOP Tactic: Tell Them What They’ve Won!

Questions Raised Over House GOP Fund-Raising Pitch
By Ed O'Keefe"
W A S H I N G T O N, May 2

— If "Hope Bailey," "Linda Johnson" or "Kansas Murray" calls, be prepared to make some space on your award shelf and get out your checkbook — but know what you're getting into.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which is charged with maintaining Republican control of the House, has a complex new telephone fund-raising pitch that some targeted callers say is dishonest and deceptive.

The scenario, as recounted by several people who have gotten the calls, plays out like this:

A pleasant voice from a group called the Business Advisory Council telephones. "Hope," "Linda", "Kansas" (or another pseudonym-protected person), leaves a message on an answering machine or voice mail: It says that Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the NRCC's chair, has selected the recipient for the National Leadership Award. Just call a 1-800 number to claim your prize.

When phoning the 1-800 number, the caller soon finds "Hope," "Linda" or "Kansas" unavailable but someone else is always willing to take the call. It's an NRCC rep — who doesn't identify himself or himself as such.

The award lure is repeated, and the caller told that Davis has also selected him or her to serve on the Business Advisory Council.

Next, a taped recording is played, and Davis congratulates the caller for being "a key business leader in your community", inviting them to participate in "high-level" discussions about country's future and the importance of small business in America.

When the tape concludes, a second, new NRCC rep, also unidentified but sometimes described as "an aide to Congressman Davis" gets on the line and pushes the pitch to a close.

At some point in the conversation, the second, unidentified representative, explains they will need a one-time donation of between $300-$500, usually for their "media campaign" or, most often, to list the caller's name in a Wall Street Journal ad intended to congratulate the winners on their award and to show continuing support for small business.

In one instance, a woman self-identified as "Mary Ann Pasqual" told Amarillo Globe-News reporter David Horsley that he was about to become an "honorary chairman" of the Business Advisory Council and would "be invited to policy meetings with movers and shakers."

In another call, "Scott Wise" had the unfortunate experience of picking up the end of a call with Paul R. Salazar, a Democrat from Austin, Texas.

Aggressive Sales Pitches

According to Salazar, "Mr. Wise" explained his National Leadership Award qualified him "to attend meetings with members of Congress" and "to take part in conference calls with congressmen." When Salazar informed "Mr. Wise" that he is a Democrat but would still like to be a chair on the Business Advisory Council without making a donation, "Mr. Wise" replied, "No, you can't."

Still, NRCC spokesperson Carl Forti told ABCNEWS, "In most cases, the people we call are successful small business owners."

Asked whether or not the Business Advisory Council would accept Democratic donors Forti said, "Most definitely."

However, many targets of the NRCC's pitch said they find the calls deceptive, especially because they contend the telephone campaign never once identifies itself as being connected to the Republican party's efforts.

Many persons selected to receive the solicitor-like calls told tales of an aggressive final pitch, which often promised everything from signed pictures of President Bush to the opportunity to give input on "major issues before the Congress."

The NRCC does sponsor an annual ceremony to honor members of its Business Advisory Council. This year's event took place on March 14, at the Ronald Reagan building in Washington.

Paying their own way to Washington, Business Advisory Council members were promised "a series of small dinners with members of Congress" in addition to the luncheon.

So just who gets to be a member of the Council?

Take the case of Mark A. Gethren.

In early February, the NRCC rescinded Gethren's invitation to its March luncheon and revoked his honors as Virginia Republican of the Year when they learned that Gethren had been sentenced to 26 years in prison. He had been convicted of six sex crimes the previous year.

Forti told The Virginian-Pilot , "We weren't aware of his current predicament; otherwise, [the invitation] would have never been extended."

When pressed by the paper to explain how Gethren, now a convicted sex offender, was selected in the first place, Forti offered, "Through our own donor history."

According to NRCC records, Gethren contributed a total of $750, with no donations recorded in 2001.

Mr. Gethren's case is not an isolated incident.

Chris Hill, a Sarasota, Fla., businessman and honorary member of the Business Advisory Council, was a candidate for the NRCC's 2001 Businessman of the Year. But then he was charged by federal prosecutors in Iowa with distributing drug paraphernalia and, if convicted, faces up to 20 years in prison.

In recent years, the NRCC has faced similar questions about their Physician's Advisory Board, then headed by Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

Following a critical statement by the American Medical Association (AMA) and calls for a Department of Justice investigation (which was declined in August of 2001), similar donor solicitation calls from the Physician's Advisory Board appear to have waned.

But calls extraordinarily similar to those of the Physician's Advisory Board continue, under the guise of the Business Advisory Board.

In January, the NRCC announced it had raised $68.6 million in 2001 for House Republican candidates, an NRCC record in a nonelection year. So far this year, they have raised $21.5 million with $20.4 million cash-on-hand. The NRCC would not confirm exactly how much of that amount had been raised by the Business Advisory Council.

Lisa Chinn, Linda Douglass and Cathy Porter contributed to this report

-- Cherri (whatever@who.cares), May 04, 2002


Response to GOP Tactic: Tell Them What TheyÂ’ve Won!

Is Linda Bird Johnson now a Republican? Way cool!

-- (, May 05, 2002.

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