Citizens Flag Alliance makes big amendment push

Wednesday, August 19, 1998

WASHINGTON — The Citizens Flag Alliance today unveiled a major national television and radio advertising campaign designed to heighten pressure on a handful of U.S. senators who hold the key to passage of a constitutional amendment outlawing flag desecration.

With a Senate vote on the flag amendment expected sometime between mid-September and the adjournment of the 105th Congress in early October, CFA officials acknowledged being three votes short of the 67 needed to pass the proposed constitutional amendment and send it to the states for ratification. Forty-nine state legislatures, far more than the 38 required to amend the Constitution, have indicated they would ratify such an amendment.

To build Senate support, the group, which is funded by the American Legion, rolled out a slick package of TV and radio spots and an hour-long television special titled “Show Your Colors, America” during a press conference at the National Press Club.

Some radio ads began airing this week in selected states, and the TV campaign will start next week in local markets around the country, CFA officials said.

In addition to TV and radio ad time slots purchased by the national CFA, officials said local CFA chapters also would begin buying time for the broadcast ads in their states.

The group also will promote a toll-free number to register support for the flag amendment, tell callers where their senators stand on the proposal and suggest what they can do to help it pass.

Patrick Brady, a retired Army major general who is chairman of the CFA, said his group would “spend whatever it takes” to win the Senate vote because that was what the veterans who have sent in contributions want the money used for.

The size of CFA's advertising budget is “proprietary,” Brady said, but said the organization's ad expenditures would fall somewhere between the $2 million spent before the last Senate vote in 1995 and the $15 million being spent to restore the Revolutionary War-era flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

The hour-long television special, which was taped in Tulsa, Okla., in conjunction with the Community of Faith religious organization, will air nationally on the Black Entertainment Television network at 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 29. The special, which blends religious and patriotic appeals with personal endorsements from prominent black athletes such as Deion Sanders of the Dallas Cowboys and Greg Briggs of the Minnesota Vikings, has been airing in selected markets in Illinois, Missouri, Connecticut, Oklahoma, California and South Dakota for the past two weeks.

The TV ads feature Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, former “Dukes of Hazzard” television star John Schneider and legendary Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton lending celebrity endorsements to the flag desecration amendment. In addition, a generic ad features a young African-American child reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance” while the picture shifts to an American flag that is being burned, followed by a final message: “When they desecrate the flag and you stay silent, we all get burned.”

Dan Wheeler, president of CFA, said television ads featuring football star Sanders, musician Pat Boone and former Miss America Shawntel Smith also were in production.

Wheeler said the national organization would buy television spots and begin airing the TV commercials next week in Illinois, Maryland, California, South Dakota, North Dakota and Washington state. Radio spots funded by the national organization started running this week in Utah and South Dakota, he said.

The ad buys are aimed not only at the two North Dakota senators, Democrats Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan — the only ones formally listing themselves as undecided on the issue — but also at senators currently listed as opposing the amendment and facing tough re-election races this fall. Included in that group are Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“We are very optimistic about Dorgan, Boxer, Conrad, Mosely-Braun and many others,” Wheeler said. “If the senators hear from their states in sufficient numbers, they will (vote) to send it to the states for ratification where it belongs,” he said.

Some of the ads will appear in states where Democratic incumbents who oppose the amendment are retiring and where their replacements could be swayed to support the proposal, just in case the flag burning amendment is stopped again this year.

“We're looking ahead to the 106th (Congress that convenes in January) if necessary,” Wheeler said.

Brady said the ads were airing nationwide in hopes that some amendment supporters would be encouraged to start talking to their friends in the Senate to get them to change their minds.

“We want Sen. (Orrin) Hatch to start talking to Sen. (Robert) Bennett to encourage him to change his mind,” Brady said.

Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is the chief sponsor of the flag desecration amendment, while Bennett, also a Utah Republican, is currently listed as opposing the proposal.

Wheeler said the CFA also was financing a nationwide Gallup public opinion poll to gather updated numbers on public support for the flag amendment. The results of that poll will be revealed at a news conference in Washington on Sept. 9, he said.