- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

George Mason University yesterday rescinded its invitation to filmmaker Michael Moore after state lawmakers balked at the pending deal, which could have cost the Virginia school as much as $35,000.

The “Evening with Michael Moore” event had been in the works for Oct. 28. As of 3 p.m. yesterday, university officials and Mr. Moore still were negotiating the details of a deal, including his speaking fee and whether taxpayer dollars would pay for the event.

But after dozens of conservatives sent critical letters and e-mails to university President Alan Merten, university officials said late yesterday the school had rescinded its offer.

“The university has decided to cancel the Michael Moore event as it was felt it would be a misappropriate use of state resources,” said Daniel Walsch, GMU spokesman. “The best way to handle this was to just cancel the whole thing. This was the best way to go.”

Mr. Walsch had said before the deal was canceled that Mr. Moore could receive $35,000 for his appearance.

Mr. Moore’s latest film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” criticizes President Bush for his handling of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq war. Mr. Moore is registering voters nationwide and is speaking on high school and college campuses in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 election.

Mr. Moore did not respond to questions e-mailed by The Washington Times yesterday.

Some Virginians had criticized the school for inviting Mr. Moore to speak.

“It strikes me as a get-out-the-vote effort for the Democratic Party using taxpayer money,” said Delegate Richard H. Black, Loudoun County Republican and one of the most conservative House members.

Mr. Black, who had sent a letter to Mr. Merten, also criticized school officials who had told lawmakers this year that higher education deserved more funding, leading the legislature to raise taxes. Mr. Black, who opposed the tax increases, said spending money to bring Mr. Moore to campus proved the increases weren’t needed.

“How can GMU pay one political operative so much for one campaign appearance when families are straining to pay your tuition and fees?” he wrote.

Mr. Walsch said fees for speakers vary and are negotiated individually, and that some speakers waive the fee or donate their fee to scholarship programs.

The average speaking fee nationally is $7,500, according to the Speakers Platform, a San Francisco-based speakers bureau. Appearances by high-profile celebrities cost $30,000 to $300,000.

Mr. Moore’s $35,000 appearance fee seemed to be “about right,” said representatives at the Speakers Platform, who did not want to be quoted.

Mr. Walsch said the tentative plan called for Mr. Moore to speak to a crowd of 6,000 at the school’s Patriot Center. Anyone with a GMU identification card could have attended free of charge, but members of the general public would have had to purchase tickets.

Earlier yesterday, Delegate Robert H. Brink said many schools have a student activity fund in place to pay for speaking engagements.

“The students of GMU should have the right to hear who they want to hear,” the Arlington Democrat said. “It’s GMU’s job to provide a forum for as many points of view as possible.”

Mr. Walsch said the school hosts “provocative” speakers geared to promote the university’s philosophy of stimulating and educating students. He noted appearances by Princeton scholar Cornell West and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

“People who get audiences to think outside their box,” Mr. Walsch said.

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