GOP lawmakers star in public-service ads

Following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, a group of House Republicans will soon be running public-service announcements in their districts to help coordinate volunteer efforts on behalf of constituents.

The 30-second spots are part of a new service offered by the House Republican Conference to help members spread coordinated national messages in districts across the country.

The Katrina spots will be followed by another 30-second spot with Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, explaining the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit. McClellan is the brother of the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan.

The members who have signed up to record a spot will appear alongside Mark McClellan, who will let “seniors and people with a disability” know they can sign up for the new drug plans starting Nov. 15, according to a script for the public-service announcement. The member then tells viewers, “Under this new plan, [the state’s] Medicare beneficiaries will have access to more affordable prescription drugs.”

The conference office previewed the spots during last week’s Republican Conference meeting.

The conference taped the Katrina spot with 35 members yesterday afternoon on the Cannon Terrace during a three-and-a-half-hour shoot, and 35 more members are scheduled to shoot another spot with McClellan today.

Political experts say the new prescription-drug benefit could have major implications in the 2006 election. As Democrats have repeatedly criticized the drug plan as inadequate and a gift to the pharmaceutical industry, the Bush administration has made implementation of the benefit a top priority. Some Republicans are concerned that the consumer confusion that surrounded the interim Medicare drug-discount card will reemerge when the drug benefit starts Jan. 1.

In addition to the Katrina and Medicare spots, the conference office also expects to shoot a 30-second piece honoring Hispanic heritage month later in September. The conference office expects to do at least one of the pieces every month, said conference spokesman Sean Spicer.

Once the 30-second ads are shot, members receive a broadcast-quality videocassette, a DVD and an Internet file, which they can then post on their office websites and distribute to local media outlets. Local television and cable stations are often required to run a certain number of public-service spots each year to maintain their license.

Future pieces could include spots with “America’s Most Wanted” creator John Walsh talking about child safety and an anti-drunk-driving campaign with former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.).

Bob Cusack contributed to this report.