- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2000

Sunday's Million Mom March, billed as a grass-roots gathering of soccer moms devoid of partisan politics, is being denounced by critics as a slickly produced media event bankrolled by Democrats and organized by Dan Rather's ex-publicist.
March founder Donna Dees-Thomases is on temporary leave from CBS News and is the sister-in-law of Susan Thomases a close friend and political adviser to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The group's Web site gives President Clinton the "Mom's Apple Pie Award" and depicts House Majority Whip Tom DeLay in a dunce cap in the "Time Out Chair."
"Is this march simply an instrument of the elite or does it reflect genuine grass-roots support?" said Jonathan Baron, spokesman for the Texas Republican. "I'll leave it to others to assess the grass-roots nature of the event.
"I mean, from our point of view, this organization gave President Clinton their apple pie award, so we can only take this kind of thing so seriously," he added.
The march, expected to draw hundreds of thousands and closing off two streets that run parallel to the Mall, has prompted controversy since it first emerged.
Mrs. Dees-Thomases, who did not return telephone calls to The Washington Times, is the publicist who persuaded Mrs. Clinton to appear on CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman," where the first lady was given an advance peek at answers to a "pop quiz" she aced on the air. Mrs. Dees-Thomases later met again with Mrs. Clinton to thank her for the appearance.
Mrs. Dees-Thomases met Monday with Mr. Clinton at the White House to plot strategy for the march. But White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart downplayed the administration's role.
"This came out of some mothers and groups that wanted to find a way to make a statement on Mother's Day," Mr. Lockhart said. "We have worked with them some this week, finding an appropriate way for the president to participate in the effort.
"But as far as political advice, I don't think they've come looking for that here," he added.
The first lady plans to march, along with Vice President Al Gore's wife Tipper and daughter Karenna Gore Schiff, Attorney General Janet Reno and TV talk show host Rosie O'Donnell.
The group's Web site asserts that guns kill an average of 12 children per day in the United States. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the real number is only half that.
The discrepancy is rooted in the fact that the march organizers count adults, aged 18 and 19, as children, which are legally defined as people 17 and younger.
Critics say most of these adult gun deaths are gang- or drug-related and should not be counted as gun deaths among children.
The Million Mom March listed itself with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) organization, which has preferential tax status. But IRS documents state that "501(c)(3) organizations may not engage in political activity, including endorsing candidates."
Although march organizers openly lobby for specific gun control laws primarily the licensing and registration of all handguns some issue lobbying is allowed under IRS rules, explained agency spokesman Don Roberts.
Mrs. Dees-Thomases has sought to portray the march as a groundswell of ordinary, nonpolitical moms from across the country who are demanding "common sense gun safety laws."
But while the group has openly promoted Democrats who advocate gun control, it has shunned safety advocates affiliated with the firearms industry.
For example, march organizers fired their Colorado state organizer for encouraging Shari LeGate to pass out child safety locks at a booth during the march. The dismissal came after march organizers learned Mrs. LeGate had ties to a gun trade group.
Letting Mrs. LeGate in would have been akin to having Seagrams speak at a rally of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the new state coordinator, Amy Sodnicar.
But while march organizers are banning Mrs. LeGate, a proponent of gun safety locks, they are welcoming Tamarla Owens, whose 6-year-old boy is accused of using a stolen handgun he found in a crackhouse to kill a 6-year-old girl in Michigan in February. Her son reportedly had been left unattended when he found the gun.
Mike Beard, a member of the steering committee for the march, said he was unaware of Mrs. Owens' plan to march. He called the ban on Mrs. LeGate one of those "internal doctrinal disputes and personnel problems" that always occur "in marches like this."
"There is nothing wrong with gun safety locks, but we had decided the goals of the march would be licensing and registration," Mr. Beard said.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, doesn't buy claims of a nonpartisan, grass-roots event.
"This isn't moms, it's the tentacles of the Clinton-Gore operation playing politics," Mr. LaPierre told The Washington Times. "It all looks to me like a soft money expenditure for the Clinton-Gore operation, to tell you the truth."
But Mr. Beard, who is also president of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, insisted ordinary mothers provided the impetus for the Washington march and 66 other marches around the country that will also be staged Sunday.
"Talk to a Hispanic mother in New Mexico who's organizing the march there and you realize she's not doing this because somebody who knows Bill Clinton in Washington asked her to do it," Mr. Beard said.
Mr. Beard said the largest march donation was probably the $200,000 that came from billionaire George Soros.
According to Federal Election Commission records, Mr. Soros last year gave $2,000 to two separate campaign funds for Mr. Gore, and has also given campaign cash to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, a relentless advocate of gun control. He also has given more than $180,000 in "soft money" to various Democratic accounts since 1995.
As the widespread media coverage of the march has neared, congressional Democrats have pushed for sweeping new gun controls that have virtually no chance of passing the Republican-led Congress.

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