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CAMPAIGN 2000

Fund-Raiser Costs Sanchez Convention Spot

August 11, 2000|JEAN O. PASCO and JANET HOOK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) has been dropped from the speakers' list at next week's Democratic National Convention and may face further reprisals from party officials after she rebuffed their requests Thursday that she not hold a fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion.

Jenny Backus, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, announced that Sanchez--one of the group's co-chairs--would be removed as a speaker for her refusal to move the Tuesday night fund-raiser from the mansion.

The event, benefiting a political action committee Sanchez heads that seeks to promote voter registration among Latinos, coincides with the second night of the Democratic convention in downtown Los Angeles.

Officials of the DNC and Al Gore's presidential campaign have been trying to pressure Sanchez into changing the fund-raiser's location, expressing concern that holding it at the Playboy Mansion is inappropriate for a party committed to gender equality and women's rights.

The pressure reached a new level Thursday when DNC Chairman Joe Andrew sent Sanchez an unusually blunt letter. Andrew reminded Sanchez that he had told her before that "Democratic state chairs, Latinos, leaders of women's groups and just plain Democrats have called and told me that this event was neither appropriate nor reflective of our party's values. I am hereby informing you that if you go forward with it, I will take actions in my capacity as party chair and president of the Democratic National Convention Committee."

Sanchez responded by making a brief announcement outside her Garden Grove congressional office. She said the fund-raiser would go on, and predicted that "it will be a great success."

She declined to answer questions or react to the party's threats.

Backus, speaking on behalf of Andrew, said after Sanchez's statement: "We have done everything we can, but now we have no alternative but to take action."

Convention details still are being hashed out, and precisely when Sanchez would have spoken had not yet been determined.

A spokesman for the Gore campaign said the vice president is "in complete support of Chairman Andrew's decision."

Mark Fabiani said Gore, who will officially become the Democratic presidential nominee Wednesday, "has been clear from day one" that he opposed holding the fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion. Fabiani added: "We're sorry this has not been resolved. We bent over backward to find other locations, and we've just reached the end of the line."

Other Democratic officials, requesting anonymity, suggested that Sanchez ultimately could be stripped of her largely honorary post of DNC co-chairwoman and that the party might withhold support for her reelection bid.

Sanchez was a surprise choice for the position last year--an honor growing out of her stunning upset of longtime Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) in 1996. Sanchez has emerged as a prominent figure in the party, becoming a key spokeswoman as Democrats have courted the Latino vote.

Backus declined to comment as to whether Sanchez is at risk of losing her co-chair job. Backus said the DNC will meet Aug. 18, the day after the convention ends, but declined to say whether Sanchez's status would be discussed.

Sanchez acknowledged Thursday that Gore's staff had encouraged her to change the location of the fund-raiser.

Donations Link Gore to Playboy

Two weeks ago, Gore publicly condemned the selection of the mansion for the event, which sold out in two days.

Sanchez aides said more than 600 people will attend at a cost of about $5,000 each to benefit the political action committee, Hispanic Unity USA.

Sanchez said she consulted the PAC's board of directors regarding the flap. "They strongly recommended that the event proceed as planned," she said.

Despite the current controversy, Gore's campaign has benefited from Playboy's largess as well. Magazine founder Hugh Hefner donated $1,000 to Gore's campaign in March last year, and Hefner's daughter, Christie, gave $500 to Gore in April this year, Federal Election Commission records show.

The mansion, located in Los Angeles' Holmby Hills neighborhood, frequently has been the site of fund-raisers, according to Playboy officials. The officials said that groups holding such events there have included the National Women's Political Caucus, the Hollywood Women's Political Committee and Rock the Vote, which seeks to register young voters.

DNC Response Was Unexpected

A Playboy spokeswoman said the party's reaction to the planned fund-raiser is "very right-wing" and unexpected.

"Certainly we're very surprised with this coming from a party with which we're very similar on stands and on behalf of issues, including the 1st Amendment," said Cindy Rakowitz, Playboy's vice president of promotions.

Pressure on Sanchez to move the event intensified in recent days as Gore chose Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut as his running mate. Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew who has been a leading critic of excessive portrayals of sex and violence in U.S. culture.

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