- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2000

Vice President Al Gore's pick for vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee is ignoring calls from her own party to cancel a fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion in the middle of the Democratic convention next month.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, California Democrat, is going ahead with the bash at legendary hedonist Hugh Hefner's pleasure palace in Los Angeles, where a bevy of scantily clad Playboy "bunnies" will give private tours to Democratic donors and members of Congress.
Mr. Gore, who gave the relatively inexperienced lawmaker the influential position of DNC vice chairman, is one of 600 Democrats on Mrs. Sanchez's guest list for the Playboy party, which also includes California Gov. Gray Davis.
Gore aides said the vice president will not attend, although he has stopped short of publicly calling for Mrs. Sanchez to change the venue of the fund-raiser.
A growing number of other Democrats, however, are showing no compunction about calling for the party to be moved.
Feminist attorney Gloria Allred, a member of the DNC's platform committee, is outraged that her party would implicitly condone the sexual exploitation and degradation of women.
"It's not just exploitive it borders on the pornographic," Mrs. Allred told The Washington Times. "I don't think that a woman appearing naked … is something that particularly improves or advances the status of women."
Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the Playboy bash "sets a bad public image" for his party. That image is anathema to the Rhode Island lawmaker, who is charged with wresting control of the House from Republicans in November.
"This totally contradicts what our party stands for in terms of equal rights, civil rights for all people and respecting the human dignity of every individual," Mr. Kennedy told National Public Radio. "That's why I will not be attending. Nor will I be encouraging any of my colleagues to attend. And in fact, I'll be discouraging them."
Mrs. Sanchez, whose office did not return phone calls, is throwing the party to raise money for her political action committee, Hispanic Unity. She has been widely celebrated by Mr. Gore and others within the Democratic Party since unseating archconservative Robert K. Dornan in 1996.
Still, some Hispanic members of Congress are mortified at the thought of cavorting at the Playboy mansion just as Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Sen. Bill Bradley will be giving prime-time speeches at the nearby Democratic convention. The convention theme for the evening is: "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet."
Even Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, a Texas Democrat whose own niece recently posed for Playboy, said the fund-raiser could have a "negative impact" on the convention.
Other Democrats defended the fund-raiser and expressed hope they would get one of the invitations, which are to be mailed this week.
Bob Mulholland of the California Democratic Party said he "absolutely" would shell out the $5,000 entrance fee if invited, insisting the venue is "fine and appropriate."
While the Playboy party is bound to provide the most lasting public image of Hispanics at the Democratic convention, Republicans are taking a tamer tack at their convention in Philadelphia.
"We're having Hispanic youth choirs and Hispanic veterans represent our party because we want to highlight the positive in our culture," said Leslie Sanchez, deputy press secretary for the Republican National Committee. "Could the differences be any more stark?"
Mrs. Sanchez, a Latina who is unrelated to the Democratic congresswoman, said trying to rationalize the showcasing of Hispanics at Mr. Hefner's notorious Shangri-La is "so disingenuous it's laughable. I mean, the Democratic Party could not possibly be more disconnected from the Latino community."
Although Hispanics have favored Democrats in recent presidential elections, many have been attracted to Republican George W. Bush, the Texas governor who speaks fluent Spanish and has Hispanic family members.
Republicans hope to accelerate this trend by hammering Democrats over the Playboy party as much as Mr. Bush was hammered for speaking at Bob Jones University, the South Carolina fundamentalist school that espouses anti-Catholic teachings.
President Clinton's affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and resulting impeachment has left Democrats wary of becoming embroiled in another controversy that is even remotely related to sex.
Some Democrats believe the Playboy party will increasingly become a lightning rod for criticism of their convention, thereby distracting attention from the nomination of Mr. Gore.
"I don't think it's ever wise to hand your enemies an issue on a silver platter," Mrs. Allred said. "I mean, this is handing Republicans an issue and putting Democrats on the defensive.
"I think it can be a major issue," she warned. "It would be better to move it and say we hadn't thought it through completely or there's a better venue. It's not too late. We should move it and move on."
Groups that oppose the sexual exploitation of women also denounced the fund-raiser.
"It doesn't tell me anything I didn't already know about the Democratic Party," said anti-pornography activist Nikki Craft, founder of Always Causing Legal Unrest. "It's entirely appropriate for these politicians … to hold their private wingdings in the mansion of the world's most prestigious pimp."
Mr. Hefner, famous for wearing silk pajamas around the clock, once donned a tie to have his picture taken with Mr. Clinton at a DNC fund-raiser. The founder of Playboy magazine and television, both of which feature nonstop nudity, gave the president $1,000 during the 1996 campaign and defended him vociferously throughout the Lewinsky scandal.
"Much ado about nothing," said the 74-year-old divorcee, who will attend the party with his 25-year-old girlfriends blond bombshells Sandy, Mandy and Brande. "I just wish that he'd had better taste."
In a Playboy interview published earlier this year, Mr. Hefner bragged that his parties are legendary for the amount of nudity and extramarital sex that go on late at night. The Democratic fund-raiser will run from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Aug. 15.
"I throw one hell of a party," Mr. Hefner said. "The Playboy mansion gives you permission to fulfill a lot of fantasies that wouldn't be acceptable elsewhere."

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