Edward Shaw wants to give you a lifetime supply of McDonald's French fries! He wants to get you a date with Loni Anderson! Or Burt Reynolds! He wants to give you a brand new, fully furnished, built-to-your-wishes house! Ed Shaw wants to give you these things just for voting in the next presidential election!
Shaw--a 44-year-old Californian, a movie producer, actor and flack--wants to turn the election into more than a political horse race. He wants to make it a lottery, a real lottery. He wants to give people who vote the chance to win big prizes. He thinks hype is the American way, and he thinks hype will get Americans to vote.
"If it means giving away dates with Burt Reynolds, if it means giving away a lifetime's supply of McDonald's French fries, just to get people to vote, so be it," Shaw said yesterday to a tiny Capitol Hill press conference. He is fresh from running a similar lottery for the June 8 California primary. More than 700,000 voters mailed their ballot stubs to Shaw in the hopes of winning one of 70,000 donated prizes worth more than $5 million. Those prizes included a trip to Alaska and Hawaii, a part in a movie, memberships in health clubs, hoola hoops and vitamins.
Although fewer people than last year voted in this year's primary, more first-time voters participated than ever before, and Shaw says he can take credit for 25 percent of those new voters going to the polls.
Problem was, the California sweepstakes was illegal. It had the blessing of the California secretary of state, but the Justice Department ruled July 21 that the California contest violated federal laws that prohibit vote buying, even though he says it rewarded only voting, not voting for any particular candidate. Specifically, the contest violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which says that anyone who "pays or offers to pay or accepts payment either for registration to vote or for voting" is guilty of a crime. Justice has warned him not to run a similar lottery in Oklahoma as he planned--and not to procede with his grandiose plans for a federal lottery.
All of which is what brings Ed Shaw to Washington. He's here to get the Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed so he can have his lottery. And he's convinced Rep. Robert Mitsui (D-Calif.) to introduce a bill to do just that. The bill went in the hopper yesterday. As written, it would allow private citizens to run nonprofit, nonpartisan lotteries to encourage voting.
"We think that although some might say this is a hype, a gimmick, we need somebody out there to encourage voting," said Mitsui, appearing at the press conference with Shaw to explain why he is sponsoring the bill. Mitsui cited figures showing that voter turnout in presidential contests has declined 20 percent since 1960, from 64.7 percent then to 47.6 percent in 1980. "A contest certainly isn't the best reason to vote," Mitsui said. "But if a contest can bring many Americans to the polls for the first time, perhaps they will be stimulated to developing an interest in the political process and they'll make voting a habit in future years."
Shaw, who has something of the air of a circus sideshow hawker about him, talks at a machine-gun pace, all italics and exclamation points. He has done public relations for everything from hoola hoops to the TV show "Bewitched." He was associate producer of "Give 'Em Hell, Harry," and produced 132 commercials for Republicans during the 1980 campaign. He is now a registered Democrat, he says.
He also says, actually, exclaims, that his idea for fighting voter apathy is a real California gimmick. "We're a bunch of crazy people out there! And it is crazy. It may not sell in Peoria, but I think it will!"
And he agrees his proposal to reward people for voting could be a little suspect. "Sure! It's bloody sickening to do this just to wake people up. Yes it's silly! But why can't we have some fun in our elections?" In fact, he wonders--and this is an idea just off the top of Shaw's head, nothing to do with his lottery--why can't the next presidential debate be chaired by Johnny Carson? "We need to put some pizazz in our politics . . . We sell everything else! Why can't we sell America?"
And so what if this is a little insulting to the average American voter? That's Shaw's point! "People have to be humiliated into voting," he says. "A lot of America is absolutely tuned out. If it takes publicity gimmicks, if they have to hear about some crazy guy giving away French fries and dates with movie stars, so be it!" Already, he says, he has $20 million in prizes lined up for 1984, mostly from companies who donated to the California lottery.
Shaw, who has spent $20,000 of his own money on the project, vowed yesterday not to make a cent from the lottery, and to spend most of the next 2 1/2 years working on getting it legalized and then on lining up, oh say, $100 million in prizes to be donated by American corporations. He hopes eventually to recoup the expense money he is putting up.
But first the lottery has to be legalized. "I intend to meet every U.S. congressman and every U.S. senator before I leave Washington! I'll see anybody and everybody who will give me a few minutes of their time. If it's insurmountable odds this session, I'll be camping out here come January, I'll be here New Year's Eve!"
Mitsui admits that his bill, introduced with only about 20 legislative days left in this session, has "next to nill chance" of passing. And at present it has no cosponsors. The point is to get the idea in circulation.
"I feel good," says Shaw about his patriotic conversion. "I feel so good I can't tell you! Maybe like an exhooker or something. Not that promotion is dishonorable or anything like that . . ." and his voice trails off. "Just that this makes me feel so good!
"I'm so happy because for the first time I'm doing something that's not connected with selling French fries! All my life I've had to take money from people to help them promote and sell their products, and some of those products just weren't so good! This is the first product I've ever sold that I'm 100 percent convinced is the best product there is: Freedom!"