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Question Celebrity

By With Hank Stuever
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page W03

What is the greatest gift a celebrity can give to a good cause: a fat check, or the use of his or her name and image to lure more (but perhaps less fat) checks from the rest of us?

Suzanne Klein of Washington e-mails that she's been involved with a number of nonprofit events that included donated celebrity clout and that "rarely does the celebrity take a minute to write a check to the charity that they have just affiliated themselves with. I understand that lending their name is what they believe they are donating, but why not go a step further, even if it's not a large amount? They have typically gotten some great press from the event; it's the least they could do."

Setting aside the possibility of anonymous donation, and trying to imagine a day (and an IRS loophole) where we, too, could write off the use of our time, name and image as a charitable tax deduction, there is no doubt that celebrities consider their very presence a gift to all of us -- 501(c)(3) or otherwise. The value can be, in their minds, considerable -- not just their time, but also the time of assistants, stylists, managers, speechwriters. Nothing prevents a visiting star from getting out her checkbook and putting in something extra, unless she or her personal assistant forgot the checkbook.

Or maybe there is no checkbook: Some stars who do the rubber-chicken-and-awareness-march circuit might not be in control of their own money. A solvent celeb usually stays that way through the firm resolve of his or her business manager, who approves all bling-bling purchases, bill payments, investments and check-writing. Some of the biggest earners in showbiz live on an allowance and a carefully watched credit card, usually imposed after one too many spending sprees. In some cases, they may not have a dime to spare, nor know where to find one or how to get it to your cause. They're paying someone else to handle that -- and that's the person you want to hit up for a donation.

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