- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

For someone so supposedly hard-nosed about bending political reality to his good intentions, singer-activist Bono showed a decidedly peevish streak recently when, on U2’s official Web site, the band felt it necessary to state the obvious: Its concerts are not political fundraisers.

As it happens, there are souls in our republic naive — or cynical — enough to think that proceeds from U2 ticket sales are being diverted into politicians’ coffers. Or worse: U2 is playing private concerts for pols.

There was apparently some confusion stemming from a report on the conservative Web site NewsMax.com that appeared to suggest U2 was performing an exclusive concert for Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and his boosters.

Joe Trippi, the Deaniac Democratic strategist, was exercised enough by the idea of Bono feting a notorious conservative that he personally looked into the matter. He later wrote (dead seriously) on his blog: “As I have learned, it is a private luxury box at the arena and not an exclusive concert in the entire Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.”

Way to crack a story wide open, Joe.

Many Washingtonians are well familiar with the Santorum scenario. The senator merely piggy-backed onto a long-scheduled date on U2’s Vertigo tour; he was one of tens of thousands to cheer Bono and company Sunday in the city of brotherly love. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, did the same at the MCI Center, where the band performed two sold-out concerts this week.

Those outside the Beltway, however, distinctly did not get the sense that such activity is a routine — and bipartisan — fusion of politics and entertainment.

In a statement on U2’s Web site, Jamie Drummond, executive director of DATA (Debt AIDS Trade Africa), the Washington-based lobbying group that Bono co-founded, formally flicked off any association with such unseemliness: “Neither Data nor Bono are involved in these [fundraisers], and they cannot be controlled. The U2 concerts are categorically not fundraisers for any politician — they are rock concerts for U2 fans.”

Better for Bono and his DATA-heads to flash their street cred — language like “they cannot be controlled” gives the impression of politicians as unsavory, barnacle-like creatures — than to calmly explain a banal truth about modern sports arenas: They have corporate suites, and the owners of those suites may do pretty much what they please with their tickets.

Like donate them to political action committees.

Mr. Santorum asked his supporters to pony up $1,000 apiece to attend U2’s show last Sunday at the Wachovia Center. Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, asked hers to contribute $2,500 for access to her street with no name, with expectations of raising nearly $50,000.

Is this the campaign-finance equivalent of scalping?

Not according to those familiar with how private firms and associations interact with political campaigns. By law, the use of a suite is considered an in-kind contribution, much like a ride on a private jet. Campaigns often must pick up the tab for booze and munchies. And donors understand why they’re there: to support like-minded elected officials.

In Washington, this kind of thing is done at private residences, restaurants and Legion halls. Why should popular rock concerts be any different — be cordoned off from the business of democracy?

Put another way: Why should Bono have coveted access to politicians and politicians not have access to him?

Despite what Mr. Santorum’s spokesman told Associated Press — that the senator has “deep respect and admiration for Bono” and his Third World advocacy work — U2 concerts haven’t been selectively targeted by Washington influence-peddlers. There were congressional fundraisers at the Rolling Stones’ Oct. 3 concert at MCI, as well as one on behalf of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the band’s opening-night performance at Boston’s Fenway Park in August.

Such events are routine at sporting events, too, and not just those involving human athletes. I recently attended a fundraiser at a steeplechase meet in Middleburg, Va., and I never heard the horses complain.

So what’s bugging Bono and the boys?

Does U2 fancy rock ‘n’ roll as some kind of sanctified realm where hucksters of all stripes are stricken dead like mortals beholding the face of God? Probably not — not the band with its own cross-promotional brand of Apple IPods.

More likely, the band believes, as do many in Washington and beyond, that politics and money are leprous bedfellows.

Bono, of all people, should know better.

What, after all, sustains the work of DATA — solar power? Why does Bono spend so much time lobbying world leaders — for positive karmic receivership or to boost First World foreign aid to poor countries?

Foremost among celebrities, Bono is acutely concerned with political ends, and as much as it may scandalize him and his band mates, money is inextricably entangled with political means.

At some point in every post-MTV presidential election, famous musicians have peeled themselves away from all-night parties to instruct us to “Rock the vote.” That’s a good start. Voting is a basic right.

But democracy doesn’t end in the voting booth. It begins there.

And occasionally it makes pit stops in corporate suites.

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