-How aggressive is your voice?

National Leadership Award
By Regina Varolli Wednesday Columnist
October 9, 2002

I have just been given the National Leadership Award by Texas Representative Tom deLay. That’s right, Republican Congressman Tom deLay chose me as one of this year’s recipients for this prestigious award! Not only that, but I have also been nominated as an honorary co-chairman on the Business Advisory Council, for which I will be invited to attend policy meeting with “other leaders in the business community.” I wonder, has Tom read my column lately?

Here’s how it happened… and it’s all true.

It was one of those days when I was killing time surfing the net and hoping to find some news that would grab my attention and spark a column for this week. Nothing was grabbing me… and then the phone rang.

My boyfriend took the call, and took a message, then passed it on to me. It was from a Mr. Travis Shaw in Rep. Tom deLay’s office.

As it happens, despite my liberal leanings, I do have republican friends in government and the non-profit sector. So, curious as I am and thinking not much of it, I called back. After all, my number is not listed so how would deLay’s office get it if not through a friend or associate?

The woman who answered told me that Travis Shaw was not available to take my call, but that I had been nominated for this year’s award on the basis of my leadership in the community. I thought, maybe… after all I’m very active in the non-profit community in DC. So, despite the BS warning bells in my head sounding off like noontime at the National Cathedral, I let her continue.

She told me all about the National Leadership Award and the co-chairmanship on the Business Advisory Council. Then she asked me to listen to a recording from deLay himself telling me more about this honor. The recording was amusing, very republican in nature, stressing how important it is for us “business leaders” to support Bush’s tax cut. The recording ended and the woman came back on the line.

Now she put on the pressure. She wanted to know then and there if I would accept this award. I asked if I could wait until I got the information packet in the mail, but she seemed determined to get my answer straight away. So, for the sheer irony of saying yes, coupled with the curiosity of where this would lead… I accepted.

Then things got even more interesting. The woman congratulated me and then told me that deLay would like to include my name (along with all the other recipients) in a full-page ad supporting Bush’s tax cut, to be run in the Wall Street Journal. I bit back my laughter. She then continued to inform me that they were asking all those who will appear in the ad to “contribute $300 to help pay for the expense of the ad.”

I remained silent.

Then she pressed: “Would you like your name to appear in this important ad and to contribute $300?”

“No.” I replied.

“Why is that?” she asked kindly yet apparently stumped.

“Well, because I don’t support Bush’s tax cut.”

“Oh,” was all she could muster.

Still, despite my honest reply, she returned to her spiel about my award and my participation in the important national debates over tax cuts and Iraq. I was hoping she would ask me my opinion on invading Iraq, but no such luck.

She then inquired what type of business I run.

“Well, I don’t technically run a business.” I replied.

“You don’t?” She sounded a bit shaken.

“I do work for myself.” I added.

“Oh, you do! What do you do?” She sounded happier now.

“I’m a writer.”

Silence… and then another “Oh.”

But she didn’t skip two beats. As if reading straight from a script, she simply rattled on with congratulations and informed me that all of us recipients would be invited to join the Vice President for a dinner next month. She didn’t actually tell me who nominated me, despite my asking, nor would she tell me why she didn’t know what I did for a living, though usually one handing out an award would know such things.

After I hung up the phone I immediately contacted some friends (republicans and democrats alike), and I opened a search in Google. Well it turned out that this is, as would be expected, a very sneaky means for The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) to raise funds for the upcoming election. Funny thing is that half the query results on Google were sites where individuals tooted the fact that they had won this same award, and the other half were pages talking about this “phony” award as nothing more than a fund-raising scam.

As I didn’t give them one dollar (let alone 300), and since they seemed so bent on giving me this award, I didn’t call them back to decline. So, as it stands, I’m on their list of award recipients and honorary co-chairs for the National Leadership Council. Soon, I’ll receive my information packet telling me more about this exciting opportunity. Further, they’re going to send me a picture of George W. - which I’ll be happy to receive as my cat litter box is in need of a new liner.

Encouraged by friends to play out this farce, I plan to remain on their roster… to see just how far this can be taken in the interest of exposing fund-raising fraud and also, just to amuse my readers and myself. After all, if the Republicans can use fake awards and appointments as a means of duping people out of $300, then I feel justified in duping the NRCC into thinking they have some chance at getting any of my money or my votes. And hey, if the Republican Party wants to give a liberal like me an award, even a fake one, the laughter alone is worth the charade.

When I’ve gathered more information from my new buddies at the NRCC, and perhaps have even been invited to attend one of their “high-level discussions on the future of America”, I’ll share what I learn with all of you. Perhaps I’ll even find out how they managed to obtain my unlisted home phone and address.

Be sure to keep your eyes open for this upcoming ad in the Wall Street Journal. Let’s see just how many people did give $300 to a cold-caller, then we’ll all know just how much money the Republican Party raised through this deceptive effort.

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