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Democrats Rap Use of Tax Money for TV Speech

October 3, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Democrats are upset that the administration spent $26,750 in taxpayer money to hire a production company for President Bush’s telecast from an eighth- grade classroom to school children nationwide.

Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, demanded today that Education Secretary Lamar Alexander come up to Capitol Hill to defend his ″spending scarce education dollars to produce a media event.″

″The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president,″ House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D- Mo., said Wednesday.

″That’s nonsense. It’s not political,″ White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said today in defense of Bush’s broadcast.

″There are 46 million school children in America. If you sent a 30-cent letter - which nobody would object to - to 86,000 of them with a direct message, it would cost more than this did,″ said Fitzwater.

″This is not a question of cost. This is a question of adapting to new technology and new techniques and we’re going to continue to try to use them,″ he said.

An irate Ford threatened Wednesday to hold up action on the multibillion- dollar Higher Education Act until he got an explanation from Alexander.

The funds came out of the Department of Education’s salary and expense budget.

Etta Fielek, the Education Department’s spokeswoman, said, ″We’re on solid legal ground″ in approving the expenditure.

White House officials said privately there were no plans to use footage from the school speech in Bush’s forthcoming re-election drive.

Fitzwater would not rule it out, saying, ″We certainly would use any tape of the president, doing anything, anywhere in the world at any time if it was to his political benefit.″ But aides noted that the footage belongs to the Education Department, not the White House.

Sig Rogich, a presidential assistant for special activities and initiatives who oversaw the broadcast, said, ″These are not campaign spots. That never crossed my mind.″

Rogich, Bush’s key image-maker, said $26,750 was ″very reasonable″ for the production crew’s work. ″It’s such an innocent thing,″ he said. ″It’s not like we hired a political crew.″

Deputy Education Secretary David T. Kearns sent Ford a letter Wednesday defending the expense.

Kearns said Bush ″spoke directly to America’s school children about taking control of their own lives and dreams. He urged them to stay in school, to stay off drugs and to work towards making our schools violence free.″

″Communicating such ideas is an important part of the mission entrusted by statute to the Department of Education,″ said Kearns.

Bush’s speech from Washington’s Alice Deal Junior High School was carried live by CNN and Public Broadcasting Service stations.

The White House hired WETACOM Inc., a production company with the local PBS station, WETA, to send in a crew for the telecast. Bush perched on a stool by a blackboard and read his speech from TelePrompTers at the back of the class, out of the range of the three cameras.

The classroom was as well lit as a television studio, and the cameras zoomed in on students and their teacher, Cynthia Mostoller, as Bush made a pitch for his education crusade.

Alexander sent letters to all of the nation’s 110,000 elementary and secondary schools beforehand urging them to let students watch the president’s speech.

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