- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Vice President Al Gore, who has expressed strong disapproval of a Democratic fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion, has accepted thousands of dollars from Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and his daughter, Playboy CEO Christie Hefner.
Playboy has given even more money to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which has Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island as its chairman.
Although Mr. Kennedy last week strongly denounced the fund-raiser and is urging fellow Democrats to stage a boycott, he recently spoke at a DCCC gathering in the home of Miss Hefner who now feels betrayed by the lawmaker.
Meanwhile, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, the California Democrat who is hosting the fund-raiser, is relishing the "buzz" created by the controversy. Her phone has been ringing off the hook with Democrats seeking invitations, according to a spokeswoman.
The Hefners have given at least $8,500 to Mr. Gore's political campaigns within the last five years. Yet the vice president has made clear he does not consider the Playboy Mansion an appropriate venue for a Democratic fund-raiser.
"We're not attending, participating, supporting, condoning or giving our imprimatur in any shape, way or form," said Gore spokesman Chris Lehane.
Playboy Vice President Cindy Rakowitz was understanding of the vice president's need to distance himself from the party.
"That's Gore being very, very careful and watching his own political tracks," Miss Rakowitz told The Washington Times. "I think that Gore has to come out being squeaky clean."
She added: "He wasn't saying really horrible, horrible, horrible things about the organization. He was just saying that he's not sanctioning the event."
Playboy officials were less forgiving toward Mr. Kennedy, who last week excoriated Mrs. Sanchez for planning the party at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.
The fund-raiser is scheduled for Aug. 15, the night that Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg will address the nearby Democratic National Convention.
"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."
Bill Farley, Playboy's national director of communications, bristled at the moralism of Mr. Kennedy, whose DCCC has received at least $26,000 from Mr. Hefner over the last four years.
Mr. Farley alluded to the legendary womanizing of Mr. Kennedy's father, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, and uncle, President John F. Kennedy.
"It's a pretty gratuitous comment on the part of Mr. Kennedy," Mr. Farley said. "We don't want to make any reference to some of the members of his own family and their history."
Miss Rakowitz said Mr. Kennedy's comments were particularly "hurtful" to Miss Hefner, who recently opened up her Chicago home to the lawmaker so he could be the featured speaker at a DCCC fund-raiser.
"She was very, very, very surprised at what Patrick Kennedy had to say because she hosted him and his party in her home," Miss Rakowitz said. "It's very, very hard for her to understand how all of a sudden he feels the company she runs has a bad public image."
Mr. Kennedy's office did not return phone calls. Neither did the vice president's campaign, which has been caught in the middle by the fund-raiser.
On one hand, Mr. Gore personally chose Mrs. Sanchez to be vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee and has nurtured her career since she unseated archconservative Robert K. Dornan in 1996.
On the other hand, the vice president does not want to be seen cavorting at the Playboy Mansion at the precise moment he is seeking to step out of the shadow of President Clinton, whose own sex scandal resulted in his impeachment.
Mr. Gore will not attend the bash, although he has stopped short of calling for its venue to be changed.
Mrs. Sanchez, who expressed her anger to Mr. Kennedy during a private encounter on the House floor last week, has shied away from publicly commenting on the fund-raiser, which will benefit Hispanic Unity USA. With 600 invitations going for $5,000 each, the event could raise $3 million.
"The only calls we've gotten are from people asking how they can get a ticket," said Sanchez spokeswoman Sarah Anderson. "We have had tons of inquires and request for tickets. It's going to be oversold because we've got more requests for tickets than we're going to be able to provide."
Miss Anderson defended the Playboy Mansion as an appropriate venue for a fund-raiser.
"We chose a high-profile venue in order to really focus and highlight on the work of Hispanic Unity USA and, as is pretty apparent, there is a lot of buzz about the event," she said. "It's going to be a great success."
Not all Hispanic members of Congress are so enthusiastic. Aides to many members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said their representatives would stay away from the Playboy party. All 15 members of the caucus declined to comment on the flap.
But Rep. Henry Bonilla, a Hispanic who is co-chairman of the Republican National Convention and not a member of the exclusively Democratic caucus, is appalled by the Playboy bash.
"It's an outrage for a Democrat leader of this stature to hold an event at a place like this," the Texas lawmaker said. "If a Republican were holding a similar event, a lot of us feel that they would have been blown out of the water big time by all the major media in this country. And it's just an incredible double standard that there has not been a lot more of an outcry about the impropriety of this event."
Officials from Mrs. Sanchez's office and Playboy insist the fund-raiser will be tamer than the legendary Playboy bashes that often feature an abundance of nudity and extramarital sex. Mr. Hefner, 74, is expected to attend with three of his four girlfriends, all of whom are in their mid-20s.
"We will have a certain amount of Playboy Playmates who will be appropriately dressed for the event, who will act as welcomers," said Mr. Farley, referring to the buxom bombshells who appear nude in the magazine's centerfolds. "Guests tend to wander the property and that's one of the areas where Playmates have been quite helpful at these events they know the place and a little bit of its history, so they can take you around."

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