WASHINGTON — All the makers of Fletcher's Castoria wanted in return for their $25,000 contribution to help install the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor was to chisel the brand name of their children's laxative into the statue's massive base.
Much to the disappointment of Fletcher's executives and stand-up comedians everywhere, the fund-raisers said no.
Fletcher's brash offer came a century ago, but now history may be repeating itself as the federal government seeks to renovate the illustrious statue and nearby Ellis Island without spending a dime of public funds.
The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, established by a presidential commission headed by Chrysler Chairman Lee A. Iacocca, has collected $143 million in cash, pledges and supplies from private donors toward its goal of $230 million. Corporations have contributed $90 million in return for the right to use their connection with the renovation project for promotional purposes and advertising.
As a result, the stoic countenance of Lady Liberty can be seen on television screens and the slick pages of magazines as never before, and some critics are beginning to question whether the business donors are taking liberties with the statue.
Donors' advertising departments are not supposed to be able to run totally unchecked. The National Park Service, the branch of the Interior Department that manages the statue and the island where it stands, is empowered to review sponsors' advertising plans.
"We're doing our best to control it," said F. Ross Holland, director of restoration and preservation for the foundation. However, he added that "we did not think through completely and thoroughly the fund-raising process and how we would go about it. There's been a few slips."
For example, the consulting firm originally hired to solicit donors was fired after it offered to let one potential corporate sponsor close down Liberty Island for a week of parties.
Similarly, the foundation rejected a proposal from Eastman Kodak to emblazon the company logo at specified spots around the island. And when the National Historical Mint, which did not pay for a sponsorship but nonetheless has been marketing Liberty coins and identifying itself with the renovation project, sent the foundation at least $250,000 in donations, the foundation sent the money back in order to discourage others from making unauthorized use of the project.
The foundation also has found itself caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between Stroh Brewery, the official beer sponsor, and Anheuser-Busch, which ran an "unauthorized" commercial using pictures ostensibly depicting work on the Statue of Liberty.
Anheuser-Busch, the biggest-selling brewer in the world, was approached by the foundation in 1982 about a sponsorship. The brewer declined, according to a spokesman, because the company had already spent $11 million to be the official beer of both the Los Angeles and the U.S. Olympic committees.
Iacocca then reportedly called Peter Stroh, chairman of Stroh brewery, whose ancestors are German immigrants. Stroh then became, for the reduced price of $3 million, the official beer sponsor.
But in 1984, Anheuser-Busch began running a "This Bud's for You" commercial in which men on scaffolding were shown grinding the face of the statue. Foundation officials were incredulous, citing both the false impression that the pictures portrayed actual work on the real statue and what they felt was an implied connection with the restoration project.
The commercial, according to attorney Bruce Keller, a member of the New York law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, which represented the foundation, was "identical in scene and spirit" to an officially sanctioned commercial by Black & Decker, the tool company.
"Budweiser tried to cozy up to the foundation in a backhanded way," Keller said. "Budweiser clearly was tweaking Stroh's nose."
Anheuser-Busch defended its right to use the scaffold-draped statue in a commercial. "It's not like we were taking advantage of anything," spokesman Mike Fleming said.
The foundation sought a permanent court order to stop the commercial, but when the judge asked for additional evidence, the foundation decided that it would be too costly to prove that consumers were misled into thinking that Anheuser-Busch was a sponsor.
"Legally, we are not on too solid ground yet," Holland said.
But the foundation hopes that a recently introduced bill specifically protecting the salability of the connection with the statue renovation project will discourage companies from trying to get for free what others have had to pay for.
"Any of us want to maintain our exclusivity," said Bob Betz, vice president of Washington state wine maker Chateau Ste. Michelle, which hopes to become a national brand through its $5-million sponsorship. "The impact on the consumer would be so much less."