Newt’s Ad Game


When the phone rang at my office the other day, the woman caller wasted no time getting my attention. "Newt Gingrich wants to put your name in an ad he's running in The Wall Street Journal."

Really? For many reasons, too numerous - and, among those who know me, too obvious - to list here, that is unlikely. Perhaps the former Speaker was looking under the "Fs" trying to phone Fox News. Or maybe he learned that I voted for him in a recent Huffington Post poll called "Who's the Most Powerful Republican?" in which, last I checked, he was trailing talk-show host Rush Limbaugh by about six to one.

Flummoxed, I said I was too busy to talk. A few minutes later a fax arrived on the letterhead of American Solutions for Winning the Future, Newt Gingrich General Chairman. Laura Boales, the woman who had phoned earlier, asked that I take a look at the attached full-page ad and call her with my "approval."

Incredibly, the ad already had my name set in type - along with 59 other folks, including James Woods (the actor?) and Harold Reynolds (the baseball player, now a broadcaster?).

"Bigger government is not the answer!" blared the copy alongside Mr. Gingrich's photo. The ad listed a dozen action points to get the nation "moving in the right direction." Among them: "Abolish taxes on capital gains" and "Abolish the Death Tax."

I phoned to discuss the ad. "How do you like it?" asked a cheerful woman who identified herself as Laura's associate. I said they had spelled my name correctly but, more to the point, why me?

"Newt believes you are among the nation's important business leaders, and he'd like to have your support by allowing him to include your name on the ad." At this point I felt like asking, "Am I on Candid Camera?" - although in my family we should know better.

I stammered a bit, and she added, "As an indication of your support, we'd like you to make a contribution of $500." Say what? "You can give more, but Newt would like 500."

My mind raced: This the type of call that got Rod Blagojevich kicked out of office, right? Of course, Newt Gingrich doesn't hold any office, although if anything is clear from this ruse he certainly hopes to be elected again someday.

"What if I don't care to contribute right now?" I asked, feigning interest. "Will my name still appear in the ad?" She put down the phone, then returned to say, "I'm afraid not."

Suspecting that we were near the end of the call, I struggled to remember the bits on "Seinfeld" about how to deal with telephone solicitors. "May I call Laura or you at home tonight?" No, that wouldn't do. "Hold on, I'll be right back (after I go out for lunch)." Not quite right. How about paraphrasing Groucho Marx: "I wouldn't be a part of any ad that would have me as a contributor." No good.

I squeezed in one more question: "How many associates like yourself are working there?"

"Quite a few," she replied, still maintaining that polished cheerfulness.

I exited with the best I line could muster: "Please tell Newt that I can't be part of his ad because I've already agreed to sign my name to the ad Bobby Jindal is running. Perhaps if Newt had called sooner we could have worked something out."

From this rather bizarre incident, I draw the following conclusions. There are no pauses between presidential campaigns anymore. Also, if Newt Gingrich fails to raise enough money misrepresenting newspaper ads he should try selling used cars. Or perhaps: Send Newt your old gold jewelry and he'll convert it to cash! Or: Trying to get rid of that old car, boat or RV? Let Newt tow it away and keep the money!

I saw Newt's smiling face on The New York Times Magazine, and now I really wonder: Did the editors think to send him a fax asking how much he'd pay to be on the cover?

© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Boston Globe.

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