Sen. Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.) and three other senators brought their own television camera crews this fall to what CBS called "the biggest media event in the history of congressional hearings," a three-hour peek at the world of raunchy rock 'n roll.
Within hours, a few minutes of videotape, edited by the senators' staffs, was beamed, via satellite, to scores of television stations across America. Hawkins alone sent "video feeds" to 33 stations for use on local news programs.
She didn't exactly need the attention. That night, two networks featured the petite grandmother sternly waving a suggestive rock record album cover in the air; her name and picture appeared prominently in newspapers the next day. "Sen. Hawkins, rock stars clash at hearing into 'explicit' lyrics," said the Florida Times-Union.
Hawkins, facing a tough reelection fight next year against Florida Gov. Robert Graham (D), sends two or three "electronic press releases" to television stations serving Florida each week. They are the newest -- and most controversial -- technological tool available to lawmakers to sell themselves and their ideas to the folks back home at taxpayer expense.
The modern officeholder, for better or worse, has become a multimedia production. And Hawkins, a first-term Republican, is among the Senate leaders in high-tech politics.
Her office, like those of many senators, is a virtual publicity factory. It uses radio, graphic arts, direct mail and especially television to a degree hardly imaginable a decade ago.
It provides voice actualities to radio stations; live interviews via satellite to Florida television stations from a studio near the senator's office; a monthly television show to cable stations; 30-second "public service announcements" to radio and television stations; a weekly "Washington Watch" column to small newspapers, and op-ed articles and press releases to larger newspapers.
It also sends 3.4 million newsletters directly to voters each year, at an estimated cost to taxpayers of more than $280,000 for postage alone.
"We regard these as reports to constituents," says Henry Hicks, Hawkins' press secretary. "We're telling people what their senator is doing."
A look at how one senator seeking reelection attempts to inform voters about her activities, and which activities she chooses to highlight, provides a revealing commentary on the U.S. Senate and the political process in the 1980s.
Hicks, a crusty 61-year-old with a wry sense of humor, is the point man in this effort. A veteran of 22 years of television and wire-service journalism and nine years on Capitol Hill, he considers himself "a public relations professional."
"She is my client," he says of the senator.
The press secretary recognizes Hawkins' strengths and weaknesses. Hence an emphasis on television. "It's her medium," he says. "The lady is good on television. She is a natural. In this business, you stress what you're best at."
Hicks has three press assistants, and he receives advice from political consultant Charlie Black and pollster Richard Morris -- both part of Hawkins' reelection campaign team -- on what issues to emphasize. He also calls, almost daily, on the services of television cameramen and producers, graphic artists, a television studio, and television and radio equipment from the Senate Republican Conference, a taxpayer-financed committee that has become almost an in-house public relations firm for GOP senators.
Nonetheless, Hawkins' advisers consider the senator a decided underdog in the daily propaganda war with Graham. They regard Graham as the Hertz of Florida politics to Hawkins' Avis.
Graham, say Hawkins advisers, has state airplanes, the state highway patrol, the prestige of the governor's office and the resources of state government with its 11 departments (each with a public relations staff) at his disposal.
"The governor is . . . in Tallahassee and he can get anywhere he wants in the state within a couple hours," says Hicks. "The issues he deals with directly affect people in Florida. They are more topical and newsworthy. He can be in the paper two or three times every day on different topics. A senator or congressman doesn't have that advantage. They deal with national issues that are often abstract. They are more remote as news sources."
Since the beginning of her political career, Hawkins' greatest strength has been her ability to attract free publicity. In the Senate, a body full of people seeking publicity, Hawkins is considered among the most aggressive. She has an uncanny ability to attract attention -- favorable and unfavorable.
Her first months in office were a public relations nightmare. They are best remembered for her famous "steak and jail" luncheon where she served New York steak, asparagus and strawberries while announcing a plan to jail food-stamp cheaters whom she called "truly greedy."
Hicks, who had previously worked for Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.) and Sen. John Melcher (D-Mont.), was brought in on a salvage operation.
"I counseled her to be a little more reflective, deliberative and cautious. She had a tendency toward very fast reactions," Hicks recalls. "I told her to slow down, to be a little more cautious and a little more careful in using numbers, to do a little less, to concentrate on a few issues, not to be all over the ball park. You can't put your dog in every fight."
"We wanted to put a focal point on our propaganda -- a lot of people think that's a bad word, but I don't -- to concentrate on two or three issues," he adds.
The issues Hawkins chose are revealing: drugs, missing children, abused children and wives, fitness and the concerns of the elderly. All can be loosely grouped under the category of family issues.
They have an obvious political attraction. All are apple-pie issues, with which hardly anyone disagrees. They are also people issues, the kind few politicians normally pay attention to. Hawkins has drawn attention to them, holding 10 separate hearings this year in her subcommittee on children, family, drugs and alcoholism.
The first round of her television commericals, which began airing one year and three weeks before next year's election, focused on the same issues. "What we're trying to say in our paid and free media is that Paula Hawkins is unique, and that, if she leaves the Senate, an entire agenda won't be fulfilled," pollster Morris said.
One ad attracted great attention in Florida newspapers. It was a powerful testimonial from Adam Walsh, who has led a crusade against child abuse ever since his 6-year-old son was murdered in 1981. Its impact may have been diminished when Walsh said later he would make a similar ad for Graham if the governor asked.
But another commerical better captured the spirit of Hawkins' campaign. It focused on a young mother, deserted by her husband. As the mother was pictured with her two children, a background voice says: "For years, few of the men of the Senate did anything for her, but now someone is, Sen. Paula Hawkins . . . She's unique. Irreplaceable."
The tools used to market Hawkins in "the free media" -- newspapers, television, radio and direct mail -- are available to any senator. But these tools have expanded in recent years, vastly increasing the power of congressional incumbency.
For example, the use of newsletters, surveys and other mailings has more than doubled since 1979. They will cost taxpayers $111 million this year -- an increase Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.) has called "the congressional equivalent of the Pentagon's $500 hammer."
Hawkins has participated in this increase, but has not been a leader. She mailed 3.4 million newsletters last year, or about one per Florida household, according to her office. One newsletter went to 11,000 farmers; another to 20,000 people concerned about childrens' issues; another to 150,000 veterans.
She has been leader, however, in a revolution in political telecommunications. Advances in satellite communications have made it simple and economical to beam a message from Washington to local television stations around the country.
The GOP recognized the potential of a powerful new weapon. After several years of experimentation, the Senate Republican Conference, which, like a corresponding Democratic group, receives $500,000 in public funds annually, launched in 1984 a sophisticated television operation of its own, complete with camera crews, editing equipment and studio.
For the last year, it has been possible for any GOP senator to send footage of his or her daily activities to local TV stations, where they often appear as news clips.
Senators use the same equipment for more conventional purposes. Hawkins, for example, films five or six public service announcements each month as well as a monthly 30-minute interview show for cable television stations.
Some of these are clearly educational. One Hawkins' cable show featured Martha A. McSteen, acting Social Security Administration Commissioner, answering questions about the program she administers, a vital interest to millions of Floridians.
Other efforts do little more than identify the senator with popular causes and keep her name before the public. For instance, one public service spot Hawkins did in August congratulated the Boy Scouts on their 75th birthday; another told Floridians that they should "rest frequently and drink plenty of water" during hot weather. "Being smart when the temperatures soar will insure you have a healthy summer."
Only two GOP senators, James Abdnor (R-S.D.) and Steve Symms (R-Idaho), used satellite feeds more than Hawkins during the first six months of 1985. In recent months, she has used them two or three times each week.
"Hawkins is not only one of the most frequent users. She's one of the best," says J. Robert Vastine, staff director of the Republican Conference.
During the same week as the raunchy rock hearing, Hawkins' office prepared satellite reports featuring the senator condemning "designer drugs" and appearing with TV exercise man Richard Simmons during a hearing about overweight children.
There was a high degree of skepticism of the news value of the feeds from the stations that received them. "We don't use any of that stuff. I can't imagine any major station doing so. It is too self-serving," said George Faulder, news director of WXFL-TV in Tampa. "They take the journalism out of television."
But four of nine stations surveyed that week said they made some use of at least one of the three feeds; three stations said they never use them, and an assignment editor at WPEC-TV in West Palm Beach said, "We use almost everything they send us."