- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

Jesse's partner

In this era of espionage it isn't uncommon on Capitol Hill, particularly in the months preceding an election, that the offices of senators and congressmen are swept for hidden listening devices.

Intelligence specialists will descend on a lawmaker's office and, in the space of a few hours, examine every nook and cranny, lamp and telephone, in the quest for concealed bugs.

One such bug sweeper now reveals to Inside the Beltway that several years ago he was conducting a search of the office of Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, and was surprised to discover something else of intrigue glued beneath the desk of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee chairman.

"Two different pieces of paper going back many years, each protected in plastic, glued right under the center part of the desk," says the bug sweeper, who speaks on condition of anonymity. "They certified that the senator had personally purchased the desk and authorized him to take it with him upon retirement.

"I never saw anything like it," he says. "If nothing else, it speaks to how well organized the senator is. And now the day has come that he is retiring."

Mr. Helms' spokesman, James Broughton, confirms that the documents indeed exist. One is a letter from the Senate Rules Committee, certifying that the impressive "Partners Desk" is the property of the senator. There is even the canceled $350 check that Mr. Helms wrote to purchase the desk.

"Back then that was a good bit of money," Mr. Broughton notes. The senator was first elected in 1972.

Today, Scholte Furniture advertises a similar mahogany Partners Desk for $13,800.

So what is to become of this historic piece of furniture now that Mr. Helms is retiring after 30 years in the Senate?

"It will probably go to the Jesse Helms Center," says Mr. Broughton, referring to the independent, nonpartisan organization established by private donations at Wingate University to promote understanding of the principles of democracy, the free-enterprise system and moral values.

All values Mr. Helms promoted in three decades behind the same desk.


Campaign reform

What would the conservative Sen. Jesse Helms say about a fellow North Carolinian, House candidate Rachel Mills, appearing in a provocative pinup calendar available for sale?

Miss Mills says she decided to create the North Carolina "Ladies of Liberty" calendar after she received an offer to pose nude in Playboy magazine, which she declined.

"I was raised as a missionary kid, so my parents would really not be happy," she says.

Instead, the 27-year-old political hopeful is one of six lady Libertarian candidates who appear in lingerie and other skimpy attire in this unique, eye-opening calendar. She hopes to sell 2,000 copies of the calendar to raise $30,000 for her campaign.

Miss Mills worked with Robert Mihaly, the former artist-in-residence at Washington National Cathedral, to create the series of photographs that paid tribute to Alberto Vargas, the classic pinup artist of the 1940s and 1950s.

"This is a fun-loving, colorful campaign," she says. "But I stand strong on issues. Runaway government is no laughing matter."

Mr. Helms would no doubt agree.


Advocacy animation

Another new form of political communication is proving to be a laughing matter that is having a serious impact.

Tom Gibson, former Reagan communications guru and one-time newspaper cartoonist, has gone online with animated pieces that deliver policy messages. Currently, he's got a dancing nymph promoting Verizon's concerns about the telecom depression.

"The animations break through the ordinary clutter of print ads, fact sheets and talking points with some humor and eye candy," says Mr. Gibson, who divides his time between creating animations and his senior director's post at the White House Writers Group.

"The visuals and message tend to stick and stay and the early returns are pretty extraordinary," he tells this column.

Alex Treadway of National Journal.com says such animations like the one now appearing on his site are "the newest, coolest mousetraps for getting a policy message out. The click-through rate on Tom's animations are eight times the rate of most of our banner ads. We're ecstatic about the response."

Verizon senior government relations executive Mike Troy says that "with issue ads becoming more and more contentious, we've found that communicating a serious message with a smile can be very effective. That's just what the nymph does for us."

And during these trying days, we can all use a bit more whimsy.


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